This live recording of Die Entführung aus dem Serail conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin follows those of Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, the latter of which I bought because Joyce DiDonato was in it, and the former because why the hell not, and also Miah Persson. Both of those proved to be mixed bags. So is this one. There is some overlap of casts, but the only singer common to all three is Rolando Villazón, which choice – well, as they say, nobody likes it, but it keeps happening.
(Previous section here.)
Hartelius is capable of doing some really wonderful things with this role. She does a lot of them here – “Welche Wechsel . . Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose” for example, particularly the last section after 5.20 or so, has some lovely and expressive phrasing in it.
(Previous section here)
This production is intended to be humorous. I think. There are the aforementioned loathsome buffa persons, for one thing. And there are various little gags that have a tendency to fall flat, e.g. when it’s midnight in Act II and the men are waiting for the women Pedrillo brings out a tiny little piano and plays the sound of a clock chiming the hour. I’m not sure whether the audience was supposed to laugh, but they don’t. I didn’t.
Based on some of the things that come up in the search stats for this blog, there are some folks out there with a serious not-entirely-musical thing for Malin Hartelius. So, for those people, I will tell you right now that if it will make your week to see a slightly sweaty Malin Hartelius sing “Martern aller Arten” while wearing a pink corset, this DVD is for you.
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.”
(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!”
(First part here.)
I was not making that up, about the chicken suit. My impulse is to explain the context for the chicken suit (and the egg, which I am also not making up, and if you ask me which one comes first I will tell you unequivocally that they both enter the stage at precisely the same time, although initially the egg is hidden) but I think if I tried to explain the chicken suit, I would have to also explain the figures in black and the tiger head and Selim’s big black rock which may or may not be connected to a person referred to as “Mamoni” and quite honestly these are not explanations that I am prepared, at this stage, to make.
Let us begin with the Picts. Images of Pictish body art, as imagined by early modern European artists, were published in numerous places in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is one such image. I know this only because Karen Kupperman’s book Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003) contains a discussion of it on pp. 58-62, the particulars of which are not relevant to Die Entführung aus dem Serail. But the image is, because it’s what Osmin is wearing in the form of a brightly colored body-stocking. For anyone who reflexively flinches at the words “body stocking” and “Osmin” fear not, he’s got a skirt too.
[previous section here.]
So. About the music. There are some good performances here. I already mentioned Christine Schäfer, who despite having to scamper all over the stage during “Martern aller Arten” for example, sounded consistently very nice. (She also sings the role of Konstanze on this recording, which has the added bonus of being just a CD, so there is no barbed wire unless you want to imagine it yourself.)
[part one here.]
This production has a way of leading you away from the opera, to the point where it is often a little startling when the opera reappears. The beginning of Act II is perhaps the best example of this. The act begins with a burst of ululation — I think that’s what it’s supposed to be — from some of the actors, who are veiled in white, and then the scene moves into a sequence of more ney and percussion music and some dancing. A young woman in a fatigue jacket throws the blue book Selim had earlier into the fountain in anger. One of the others fishes it out again. Selim gives a reading of either poetry or philosophy from a different book that he carries about with him, and the sense is again that there is a story unfolding here quite independent of the one we are used to following in the opera.
You know how sometimes familiarity with a given opera can make an unusual production of it seem like something hurled in out of left field? Well, this production has a way of making the opera seem like something hurled in out of left field. This is a rather extraordinary achievement on the part of the production designers and director. Whether it is a good idea or not is another question.
There is something infectious about Entführung, independent of the production. Even when I know the Entführung I am about to watch is going to be all barbed wire, concrete and despair, the overture still makes me smile.
Fortunately, although this production is unconventional, it’s not the barbed-wire-and-despair sort of unconventional. There’s some overturned scenery and a bit of BDSM, but one hardly even notices. Besides, I want to talk about the music.
[part one here]
As I said, this production’s Belmonte is not a conventionally heroic figure. He is twitchy and fussy and prone to panic at the wrong moment — he even bolts during “wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen,” and Blonde and Pedrillo interrupt to call him back. Edgaras Montvidas expresses this part of his character very well – there is a deliberate hesitancy about this Belmonte. He doesn’t really know what he’s about, and he’s afraid it’s going to turn out to be the wrong thing.
This production of Entführung from Amsterdam is Regietheater in the classic sense. Through Act III the set is gradually stripped away to nothing, and at the end the chorus reappear in street clothes, carrying the ‘orientalist’ costumes they had worn earlier. The production is telling us in no uncertain terms that this is theater about theater.
This probably tells you more about me than it does about Mozart, but after I watched that ‘conventional’ production of Entfuehrung again the other evening, what I ended up wondering was, am I being fucked with here? Is this intended to be as straightforward as it seems?
Ultimately, I think the answers to those questions are 1. No and 2. Yes.
I think the questions themselves are worthwhile, though. Thinking about this put me in mind of some of the little touches in this version of Le Nozze di Figaro (it’s Staatsoper Berlin, 1999). What I linked to was ‘porgi, amor’ and notice that while this is basically a period production (e.g. see Susanna’s costume) have a look at what the Countess picks up after she sets down the cup of tea. It’s an issue of Vogue. (Susanna later gets distracted by it when the Countess is in ‘woe’ mode, but that’s not in this clip) There are a few other little touches like this, e.g. Figaro has a tool belt in Act I, that remind us that we are a modern audience and this is a modern performance and that is always going to be a part of our relationship to this opera.
(Also, apparently they are doing this production again in Berlin in February. Different cast, and probably well worth hearing. Part of me wants to go. Anyone feel like hanging out in Berlin in February?)
An acquaintance of mine said something recently (if you see this, Rebecca, it was your post a few days ago) that came to my mind again this afternoon. I am generalizing a little from what she wrote, but the point was that there is no ‘default’ version of an opera, and a production that appears conventional is just as much a choice as one that is not.
The reason I was thinking about this is that I was making little video excerpts of this version of Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail. This is a production that Mozart would probably have recognized. It’s bright and colorful and deliberately ‘orientalist’. When I saw it, my impression was ‘oh, this is a very ‘straight’ version of Entfuehrung.’ For example, here is ‘ach, ich liebte’, which gives a reasonable sense of how the thing looks. (And ach, Konstanze, getting stuck with a garish ensemble like that is evidence of captivity in and of itself.)
When I watched part of it again, what occurred to me was, hey! this is like the opposite of regietheater! (As I am somewhat literal-minded, my next thought was wait, does regietheater even have an opposite? Certainly it is kind of oppositional, as a concept. I half suspect that a good thirty to forty percent of it is staged with the sole purpose of pissing people off. Possibly, in some cases, even a specific person or persons. I do not intend this as a criticism, merely as an observation.) But anyway. If you wanted to define regietheater by showing someone an example of what it isn’t, this would be an excellent thing to show that person. It is so un-regietheater that regietheater is almost in the room by the very fact that it isn’t in the room, if you know what I mean. Someone could have brought in the barbed wire and the kouroi and the unicycles and they deliberately chose not to. (Although, you know, if someone does decide to do a version of Entfuehrung that involves unicycles, I would probably be willing to pay to see that.)
Anyway. The point here is that even a production as sweet and straightforward as this one should probably not be taken as a yardstick against which ‘edgier’ productions are measured. Staging Entfuehrung like this in the twenty-first century communicates something more than simply ‘this is a production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail.’ We can get into the details of what it communicates another day, though.
Here is Eva Mei singing ‘Martern aller arten.’:
Isn’t that nice?
Four operas that were never written.
1. Donizetti’s Lady Jane Grey. It sounded like a good idea at first, what with Jane being a vulnerable young girl who ends up dead (and as Poe once said, nothing is more romantic than a beautiful woman who dies! Nothing!), but Donizetti and his librettist ran into conflict as to how much of Jane’s education to leave out of the story. Also it made usurpers (sort of) the (sort of) heroes of the story, and the Italian censors didn’t like this concept. Reducing early modern politics to early nineteenth-century sentimental conventions is tougher than it looks.
2. Handel, Bradamante e Ruggiero. Version of Alcina in which Ruggiero actually is a girl rather than just being played by one. Epic sapphistry. Interestingly enough, this opera, despite being performed widely in the eighteenth century and after, disappeared in the early 1980s after Michel Foucault pointed out that the category of ‘lesbian’ as we now understand it was not operative in Handel’s day, and therefore the opera was in fact impossible. No one has seen it since.
3. Mozart, Der Bassa und Ich, a sort of suppressed first draft of Entführung in which Selim puts Konstanze in charge of his children. Hilarity ensues.
4. [technically a musical, but who cares] Rogers and Hammerstein, Jamestown! Sort of like Oklahoma! but nearly everyone dies of dysentery.