Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Stuttgart Opera 1998 (3)

(Previous part here.)

Belmonte and Konstanze are a little more troubled than their servants. While Pedrillo and Blonde worry mainly about not getting killed, the hero and the heroine suffer agonies of doubt, suspicion and temptation. In Act I, when Pedrillo tells Belmonte that Konstanze is alive he warns him that he (Belmonte) must control himself. B1 becomes agitated at the thought of seeing her, and B2 presses him to calm himself, for which efforts B1 shakes his hand and thanks him. But B2‘s efforts do not suffice – B1 turns to the conductor and cries “bitte, Herr Kapellmeister, bitte!” and the conductor, seeing his distress, begins the music for “Konstanze, dich wieder zu sehen!”

This occurs again here, which is a clip of the first chorus, with the ‘Turks’ and the figures in black, which leads into Konstanze’s first aria, “ach, ich liebte.”

Midway through the chorus Selim carries in K2 who is in a dead faint. When Selim reaches the point in the spoken dialogue where he mentions his “zärtliche Liebe” for her, she wakes up. This conversation progresses as it normally does, with Selim increasingly agitated and K2 increasingly alarmed, and when he flings his overcoat open in her direction — we as the audience are not privy to what he is or is not wearing underneath — K2 asks desperately for music and pleads, “sing, Konstanze, sing!” At which point K1 (Catherine Naglestad) appears and begins “ach, ich liebte.”

The cool control of the music is unmistakeable. It changes the feel of the entire scene, which is probably precisely the point. I don’t love everything about Naglestad’s voice – her vibrato can sound wider than I like, so that she seems to be singing around the note rather than right on it, and at times (e.g. later in “martern aller arten”) she slows down in order to maintain precision. But the effect here works perfectly. We have this very agitated busy scene and then suddenly this, as I said, cool, self-controlled sound that, when it appears, is utterly riveting.

And this pattern is consistent. Over and over again we get a kind of tension between music and emotion – music expresses what cannot be expressed otherwise, and also music as imposition of order, or a way of both expressing and containing otherwise difficult to control feelings.

So what we’ve got is the music of the opera itself illustrating the balance between control and release. Which makes a great deal of sense. After all, this is a story about temptation and self control. Belmonte struggles with it early on, Konstanze is faced with a great big apple and a little boy carrying a snake during “Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose,” and Selim of course has moments of both rage and (from his own perspective, at least) admirable self control with regard to Konstanze.

The way the music is placed within the production illustrates this, as does the doubling of the characters — the division of individuals into two is often used to suggest that they want one thing but are saying another. O2 makes eyes (and tongue) at Belmonte in Act I, for example. During Belmonte and Konstanze’s Act III duet, while K1 and B1 seem rather thrilled at the prospect of death, everyone else, including their doubles, looks understandably freaked out.

And then at the end, after the final chorus when — normally — the Singspiel is over, there is some additional dialogue. Selim has come back for the last bit in a tux, and offers his thoughts on being an actor among singers. Apparently opera singers make actors feel inadequate, because he recites a bit of poetry one representative line from which is about how the black horse that will draw your coffin is already frolicking in a field somewhere. K1 tells him that this was wonderful to which Selim replies, simply, “thank you.”

Where, then, does this leave us?

(Next part here.)