Mozart with extras, alas
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
02/07/2018 - & February 10, 13*, 16, 18, 22, 24, 2018
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K. 384
Jane Archibald (Konstanze), Claire de Sévigné (Blonde), Mauro Peter (Belmonte), Owen McCausland (Pedrillo), Goran Juric (Osmin), Raphael Weinstock (Belmonte’s Father, Pasha Selim)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Johannes Debus (conductor)
Wajdi Mouawad (original director/additional dialogues), Valérie Nègre (revival director), Emmanuel Clolus (set designer), Emmanuelle Thomas (costume designer), Eric Champoux (lighting designer)
(© Gary Beechey )
It has been 38 years since the COC last performed Die Entführung aus dem Serail so this production, with a well-chosen cast, was eagerly anticipated. What we got, however, is an extensive re-working under Wajdi Mouawad that adds about 40 minutes of extra dialogue and action to the work that benefits from being moved briskly along. The plot he has superimposed on the singspiel gives us his idea of the plot’s aftermath, when Belmonte and the three former captives have returned to Europe.
Prior to the overture we are treated to a scene in Europe celebrating the recent escape from bondage. The upper class crowd are portrayed as a pack of cackling fools; at one point they chant “Pe-dri-llo! Pe-dri-llo!” Belmonte’s father brags about the Enlightenment, and initiates a game involving hitting the head of a Turk with a mallet. Konstanze and Blonde are offended by this. The overture begins but then is interrupted by further talk. The opera composed by Mozart becomes a series of flashbacks amidst a series of acrimonious exchanges between the four Europeans and their Turkish captors.
The renovated plot goes something like this: during the two years of captivity Konstanze has come to the point of being responsive to the pasha’s ardent passion for her, and she feels that the fact that he has not forced himself upon her is a sign of his noble nature. Blonde, too, is impressed by Osmin’s love for her and she berates Pedrillo for pursuing other women. She claims that Osmin “aspired to greatness”. Later on we discover that she is pregnant by Osmin. The upshot is that the women are of two minds of whether or not they want to be rescued. Even Pedrillo prefers Turkish sunshine to Europe’s rain - (but aren’t they from sunny Spain?)
When the two women are informed about the plot to free them there is the joyous quartet, and it is performed with all the bounce one could wish for. Immediately after, though, the women state that they were just pretending to be joyous as the two men had revealed their anxiety about the two women’s faithfulness during the incarceration and the women were afraid to reveal their true ambivalent feelings. Thus they are resentful toward Bemonte and Pedrillo; meanwhile their captor threatens torture (and, later, execution) and his lieutenant, Osmin, constantly spouts anger and vengeance. The revised libretto abounds with illogical turnabouts that could easily be lampooned on the Arabic satirical website al-Hudood.
Visually it’s very dull, with dark gray sets with absolutely no hint of place or colour (except for period costumes for the Europeans). Both the pasha and Osmin wear plain black caftans. Selim makes quite an issue as to how Belmonte’s father had ruined him, so perhaps this exemplifies his straitened circumstances. He does maintain a harem, however - we get a glimpse of half a dozen women languorously grooming one another and there are eight little girls (his daughters? No sons?) And of course he has his janissaries although they are a forlorn lot who look like rescuees from a salt mine and carry rough sticks for weapons. The only colour is provided by a mass of flower petals that get scattered as Selim enters and later there are various bits of business when these get tossed about.
The movable set succeeds in creating one good moment when two large panels move to constrain Konstanze and other women into a claustrophobic situation during the lengthy prelude to her anguished aria “Martern aller Arten”.
What with the added dialogue there are a lot of surtitles to follow and I did my best to note a few innovations. I noticed that one key line of Selim’s was softened: when he threatens Konstanze with “Martern von allen Arten” (“tortures of every kind”) it is translated as “a long slow route to death”, but when Konstanze sings her ensuing great aria with the same opening line they are given the usual translation. When Osmin sings his final aria savouring the impending executions he addresses it to one of the little girls who holds a teddy bear and falls asleep as he sings. A Turkish lullaby?
Act II opens with the Muslim call to prayer followed by a prayer scene, with the men and women separated (the captives have been forcibly converted and pray five times a day). Mouawad’s detailed synopsis informs us that Selim is horrified by the threats he had previously uttered and wishes to restore his sanity through prayer. But as we know he waxes vengeful once again when the escapees are caught. He changes his mind - just as in the original libretto - when he realizes he is being as cruel as Belmonte’s father had been to him some years before. The account of Belmonte’s father’s actions is longer than usual. We even learn the name of the woman snatched from Selim (Maria Magdalena de Heredia) who became Belmonte’s mother and is now dead.
Musically and vocally things are in good form. The worst thing about the music is that it keeps getting interrupted by the lengthy querulous dialogue and it is always a welcome treat when it resumes. Jane Archibald basically owns the role of Konstanze these days and gives full evidence as to why this is so. Claire de Sévigné soars through the huge range Mozart devised for Blondchen; it’s not her fault that the morose character she has to portray is someone you would cross the street to avoid. Mauro Peter is a real discovery, a classic Mozartian tenor with warmth and style. Once again Owen McCausland impresses with his way of seizing a role and making it his own both vocally and dramatically.
It must be said that the role of Osmin is one-dimensional as written; Mouawad’s additions try to give him more depth. He sings his entry aria with a degree of dignity, but he soon becomes the familiar venom-spouting bully. Goran Juric, last season’s Sarastro, makes a welcome return. Raphael Weinstock is expressive in his two roles - Pasha Selim and Belmonte’s father. And what a mercy it is that the chorus sound so much better than they look.
To sum up: a mood of sour recrimination descends on this production right from the start and never lets up. It is neither enjoyable nor enlightening. Booing is rare in Toronto, but the production team was booed on opening night. Some audience members wisely left at the intermission.
The production was first seen in Lyon in 2016, also with Jane Archibald.