Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud
The Grange Festival, 24 June 2018
The fledgeling Grange Festival, now in its second year, followed its impressive production of Handel’s Agrippina (reviewed here) with a pantomime interpretation of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, here under the title of The Abduction from the Seraglio in its new English translation by David Parry. The veteran director John Copley (the 85-year-old honoured with a very old photograph in the programme) kept things light and frothy, doing nothing to make up for the perceived the lack of character development in Mozart’s comic Singspiel. The replacement of sung recitative with spoken text meant the sequence of arias and consort numbers were not part of an unfolding musical fabric, and the rather light direction meant that it got close to the style of present-day musical theatre. Judging by their response, it suited the tastes of the Hampshire audience well, with little to trouble their intellect or to take their mind off the long dinner interval or the spectacular scenery outside. How they giggled at moments like judging girls on the grounds of being “not too fat”, or Osmin’s calling Pedrillo a “mincing little nancy”, albeit on this occasion because he was (counterintuitively) “ogling women that you fancy”: a triumph of rhyme over rhetoric.
Clad in traditional dress, in a staging that made just about enough concessions to the setting within and around an Ottoman harem, the simple plot was easy to follow. Paul Curievici’s Pedrillo and Jonathan Lemalu’s Osman were straight out of pantomime central casting. Pedrillo had the sort of jovially jokey stage presence and excitably high voice that reminded me of children’s TV of many years ago, while Osman played the bogeyman to wonderful effect, combined with some very impressive singing in a very challenging vocal role – one of the singing highlights of the evening. The other was the singing, and compelling acting, of Daisy Brown as Blonde, pictured below with Osman.
Ed Lyon’s Belmonte was troubled by excessive vibrato, conflicting with the required accuracy of Mozart’s writing, and took a while to find out which end of the comedy spectrum his character was supposed to be on. His English version of Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke at the start of Act 3 was well delivered, despite the distraction of another bout of fun with a ladder. Kiandra Howarth’s Konstanze also struggled to control her persistent vibrato, and she also failed to rein in her voice when it approached the heights, resulting in some piercingly loud upper notes. That said, she sang the extended Martern aller Arten with some conviction but was generally better when quieter. Alexander Andreou’s spoken role of the Pasha Selim (pictured below) was another one then balanced precariously between comedy and seriousness, not helped by having to put on a fake Turkish accent (why not Osmin as well?) and to deliver lines such as “I’ve saved you from a fate worse than death” at what should have been his most serious moment.
A rare moment of directorial and textural insight into the human condition came with the end of Act 2 Quartet Ach Belmonte! Ach, mein Leben when the interaction between Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo, and Blonde is triggered by asking one of the men “tell me what you are thinking” – usually a fatal thing to do. It was a little little mini-opera in itself.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud, with few exceptions showing remarkably little insight into period performance and sounding a little under-prepared on the opening night. The Grange Festival has an enormous chance to focus on early music and its related performance style, not least because of the experience of their artistic director and their obvious need to build independently on the enormous success of Grange Park Opera, until 2016, the opera company that put The Grange on the musical map, and now relocated in their new opera house West Horsley. They really should question why they didn’t use one of the many fine period instrument orchestras for his production, as they did to great effect in Agrippina with the Academy of Ancient Music. Die Entführung has some key moments for the woodwind, which really does need the sound on 18th-century instruments, however well played it was.
The extraneous bits and bobs tagged onto the fine architecture of The Grange included this nice little example of the early architectural development of classical columns –
although the interior stills need a bit of work –
Production photos: The Grange Festival / Simon Annand