Abduction With No Happy End
05/05/2012 - & May 10, 14, 25*, 28, June 6, September 9, 11, 13, 2012
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K. 384
August Zirner (Bassa Selim), Cornelia Horak (Konstanze), Andrea Bogner (Blonde), Mirko Roschkowski (Belmonte), Cosmin Ifrim (Pedrillo), Gregory Frank (Osmin)
Volksoper Chorus, Thomas Böttcher (Chorus Master), Orchestra of the Volksoper Wien, Gerrit Priessnitz (conductor)
Helen Malkowsky (director), Bernd Franke (set design)
G. Frank & A. Bogner (© Dimo Dimov/Volksoper)
There are few operas as well suited to introducing children to this art form as Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail. Mozart’s Singspiel, set sometime in the 18th century on the Turkish coastline, teaches us a wonderful lesson about love and forgiveness. The Volksoper Vienna was abuzz with children on this Friday night, dressed in their best, accompanied by parents and grandparents. Did they get their lesson on human kindness?
The curtain opened to Bernd Franke’s simple but esthetically appealing sets that hardly changed throughout the three acts. The staging, in a neutral white color scheme, gave little indication of where the opera took place. Here a pot with green fern (Pedrillo is a gardener after all), there a baldachin: the rest was left to your imagination. Franke’s timeless costumes on the other hand, also in a variety of white shades, made clear that the opera was set somewhere in the Orient.
German stage director Helen Malkowsky had stepped in at short notice to take over the staging for the Volksoper’s 2010 production of Mozart’s Entführung. In this revival of the two-year-old production, there seemed little left of Malkowsky’s fine-tuning of the characters’ psychological make-ups and their personal interactions. August Zirner, the charismatic American-German actor as Bassa Selim, Andrea Bogner (Blonde) and Gregory Frank (Osmin) were the only members of the original cast. Everybody else seemed to bring their own perception of their roles to the stage and try to fit in.
Some of the strongest moments of this Entführung were the spoken dialogues, somewhat edited for a 21st century audience. The vocal highlight of the evening was Mirko Roschkowski’s Belmonte. It was inexplicable why this excellent Mozart tenor didn’t get to sing his “Baumeister-Aria” with which the 3rd act should have begun. This production had opened up all other customary cuts in the score and even extended the dialogues. Cosmin Ifrim performed Pedrillo with aplomb. Andrea Bogner at his side as Blonde was quirky and funny. Gregory Frank, who definitely possesses the deep, low voice to sing Osmin, did not really portray the dimwit Mozart intended. Some of the funnier moments of the opera therefore were lost. Cornelia Horak as Konstanze, though equipped with a beautiful and warm timbre, seemed overstretched with the demanding coloratura arias. The Volksoper orchestra and chorus, led by Gerrit Priessnitz conducting mostly mezzoforte, performed adequately.
Interesting aspects in Malkowsky’s perception of the Entführung were the portrayal of Bassa Selim as an aging yuppie, hit hard by mid-life crisis, and Konstanze’s infatuation with him. Malkowsky, generally, did not get in the way of Mozart’s heavenly music and remained mostly faithful to the libretto. However there were a couple of awkward moments, like the Janissary Chorus in the 1st Act dressed as a Taliban troupe, or the oversized remote control with which Pedrillo lowered the wine flasks in the 2nd Act. At the very end though, Helen Malkowsky did interfere with Mozart’s intentions: for the final Janissary Chorus Bassa Selim stayed back alone on stage, the chorus singing from the orchestra pit. At the closing chords of the opera Osmin stumbled back on stage and threw Blonde’s bloodstained, ragged vest at Bassa Selim’s feet. Apparently, no happy end in this Entführung: the opportunity to celebrate kindness and forgiveness was lost on these last chords of Mozart’s eternal composition.