This isn’t a DVD but rather a copy of (I think?) a live broadcast from the Zurich Opera in 2003. It’s pretty fantastic.
The staging is simple – a series of blue walls and wooden doors that look perfectly appropriate for Turkey in the eighteenth century. Costumes are eighteenth-century, with Belmonte (Piotr Beczala, who has one of those faces that somehow goes with wearing a white puffy wig) and Pedrillo (Boguslaw Bidzinski) in very nice pink suits and the women in dresses – Konstanze’s is a little more “Turkish.”
I always feel like I’m being gaslit by this opera – every single time, they change the dialogue slightly, and it’s different! But the other side to hearing something very familiar over again is that different little pieces of the score jump out at you each time. This is the thing about Mozart – no matter how many times you hear it, there is more there.
Before I get to what I actually have to say about this, one minor technical complaint. Or rather, a comment and a complaint. The comment is that the video includes little shots from offstage of the performers right before they enter at various points in the performance, so we are treated to, e.g. Bidzinski following the beat of the music for a few bars, and Malin Hartelius looking – can you believe it? – a bit nervous and smiling at someone and taking a deep breath before one of her entrances. This is rather sweet, and I didn’t mind it at all. My complaint is that the video director seems to find everyone’s torsos and hands very interesting. We get a lot of torso shots. Not in a creepy way (we are talking torso shots of performers of both sexes, not cleavage obsession) but it’s a bit odd and I’m not sure what gets communicated thereby.
I keep wanting to refer to Beczala as “Tamino” because Die Zauberflöte is the one other thing I have seen him in, but this would be inaccurate given that that is the wrong opera. This Belmonte isn’t what one would call deep, but he’s suitably heroic and the sound is nothing to complain about. Bidzinski as Pedrillo has a few slightly off notes and his acting in the spoken parts is not quite up to the level of the others, but “Frisch zum Kampfe” was enjoyable.
And then there’s Patricia Petibon, who in this particular instance walks a very, very fine line between moderately funny and annoying as hell. Sometimes she crosses that line. She’s also one of those sopranos (Patrizia Ciofi is another) who sound very pretty singing Blonde but come off as really squeaky-sounding in the spoken bits. Don’t get me wrong. Petibon’s phrasing can be lovely, and she plays around with the ornaments in “Durch Zärtlichkeit” in a way I liked, but the acting and all the bouncy curls and slightly weird little physical affectations got on my nerves. Part of this may have been the stage direction – but I don’t think all of it.
And then there’s Malin Hartelius, who had me glued to the screen pretty much whenever she was on the stage. Hartelius makes this music sound easy – that cool bright sound reaches every note with a really beautiful effortless quality, and just to take one example, all the difficult coloratura in “Martern aller arten” is not only brilliantly executed but wonderfully expressive. And this leaves her plenty of room for acting. In dramatic terms I thought this was fantastic. We see Konstanze’s fear – she’s quite young, after all, and inexperienced – at the feelings Selim evokes in her, and during “Martern aller Arten” all the various shades of her doubts and hesitations. When Selim kisses her Konstanze seems to welcome it, but she’s more stunned than enthusiastic. But my favorite part was the arc through Acts II and III where we see Konstanze’s pain and ambivalence about Belmonte, all of which seems invisible to him. During his “Wenn der Freude Träne fliessen” she looks first a bit freaked out, and then anguished, and there are some sections where you can see she clearly wishes she were somewhere else because she feels so guilty. Konstanze is unhappy in a way she knows she can’t share with Belmonte, and although he doesn’t know it, she knows it – and this is a barrier between them that he isn’t even aware of and this makes her feel awful. When they both believe in Act III that they are about to die, it’s evident that part of Konstanze would welcome the peace this would bring.
In other words, Hartelius has done a brilliant job of communicating just how much this poor young woman actually goes through in this opera. Konstanze’s anguished awareness of her own falseness carries through to the end, where despite all the happy music she seems both miserable and ashamed – the words “anyone who can’t see the truth of this is worthy only of contempt” seem to be personally directed at her. And Belmonte is cheerfully oblivious. You get the feeling that this poor young lady is going through the rest of her life hating herself.