Mozart’s youthful singspiel gets a snappy, zestful production at Garsington, and although the updating won’t please everyone, it is consistently inventive, funny and most importantly very well sung. Pasha Selim is no longer an all-powerful ruler but the mega-rich owner of a soccer team, Belmonte masquerades not as a clever architect but a ‘talented’ coach, and Osmin heads a team of security guards who protect Selim’s compound. Most of it works, and if we might miss such touching moments as that where the Pasha tells Belmonte to take his freedom, and Konstanze with it, the loss is compensated for by so much else that is absolutely right about Daniel Slater’s production.
Francis O’Connor has designed a set which capitalizes on the light-filled space and makes clever use of surprising revelations, especially the ‘kitchen’ which becomes a cocktail cabinet and the covered balcony which changes to a ‘patrons’ box’ for viewing the ‘team’s’ success. The management of the singers treads the delicate line between letting them park and bark and giving them too much business; this production gets it just right here, with Konstanze singing her second-most demanding aria whilst being given a pedicure, a kick-boxing lesson and a head massage – not all at once of course – and Osmin giving vent to his jealous rage whilst managing his bunch of heavies.
Rebecca Nelsen’s Konstanze, clad mostly in rich-bitch off-white or rich-chav ‘Juicy Couture’ was a feisty heroine – you wonder how Selim could possibly have coped with her if she had come to love him. ‘Martern aller Arten’ was the showpiece it ought to be whilst not being distanced from the action, and ‘Traurigkeit’ revealed confident mastery of those difficult long phrases. Her beloved, in the shape of fellow Texan Norman Reinhardt, may not have been so uniformly at ease (this was his UK debut) but he presented a forthright, at times quite heroically-toned Belmonte. Their blended recitative at ‘Ist er Vorgeschmack der Seligkeit / Engelseele!’ was properly heart-rending.
The ‘comic pair’ of Blonde and Pedrillo were strongly cast in the shape of Susanna Andersson and Mark Wilde; listening to the former’s rich tone and ardent projection it was easy to hear why she won the Kathleen Ferrier prize, and Wilde’s lovely tenor, always musical and used with sensitivity, was coupled with a strong stage presence. Osmin is a part which sounds as though it had been written for Matthew Rose, so wonderfully does his voice plumb its depths and his characterization reach its absurdities. The “Followers and members of Selim’s household” made a cherishable bunch of ‘fans’ and ‘staff,’ whilst Aaron Neil was a daftly sympathetic Selim, unsure as to whether he had built his mansion to be near his stadium, or the other way around.
William Lacey has an exact feel for Mozart’s orchestration, shaping the lines so as to allow the singers room to breathe and giving the right zest to the ‘Turkish’ elements of the score. The dialogue, adapted by the director, mixes English, Spanish, Italian and German to great comic effect, and the little touches with which we have come to associate Garsington Opera – one year a pair of llamas, another a shiny sports car – were as much fun as ever. The best part, of course, apart from the music, is the spectacular grounds at Wormsley and the beautiful, if chilly opera pavilion – somewhat less chilly this time, since on returning after the dinner interval those of us sitting by the windows found blankets draped over our seats. Aah – milords for seat neighbours, Mozart onstage, and cosy blankies to snuggle in; the full Garsington experience.