Its musical credentials aside, the strength of David McVicar’s production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail for Glyndebourne Festival Opera was its ability to tell the story in a straight forward manner. Without a hint of anachronism, it unapologetically placed the drama in its original eighteenth century setting, and in the process proved strong in asserting the characters and generating atmosphere.
Pulling off the opera on a relatively small stage with restricted parameters and full scenery is one thing. Making it work in the vast Albert Hall with less infrastructure to support the drama is quite another. In the event, however, the result was just as successful because stage director Ian Rutherford made exactly the right adjustments to ensure that the piece worked in its new setting.
Almost uniquely among operas presented at the Proms, Glyndebourne productions tend to place the orchestra to the front of the stage and see the majority of the action occur on the steps behind. Like Billy Budd in 2013, however, this Die Entführung positioned the orchestra so that action could occur both before and behind it. This worked because so much of the opera involves individuals rather than choruses, and so this enabled their emotions to be rendered in close proximity to the audience. At the same time, the curved sweep of steps that dominate the Albert Hall stage were used to generate atmosphere. A projection running their entire length bathed Middle Eastern arches in oranges, yellows and reds, while Turkish women reclining beneath basked in their glow. The Pasha’s followers were rendered in just as much detail as at Glyndebourne, and the steps sometimes featured tableaux of folk including families with children.
Where parts of the staging had to be altered, the opportunity was taken to make things even funnier. Health and safety may have prevented Blonde from smashing plates so close to the orchestra and audience, but the sight of her vainly throwing unbreakable ones to the ground towards the start of Act II was amusing in its own right. The ladder introduced here was much smaller than in the original, prompting an hilarious moment when Konstanze bypassed it altogether to step down from her balcony, while the fact that the orchestra shared the stage with the performers allowed Osmin to throw his arms around the conductor during ‘Vivat Bacchus!’.
The vast majority of elements, however, remained the same. The cast wore full costume and most props were retained, including the bushes that Osmin decapitates and flings aside, the tea set over which Blonde attempts to domesticate Osmin, and the bed in which the Pasha tries to conquer Konstanze. In the process, we received all of the comedy in Osmin’s attempts to reach over and grab cakes as Blonde sewed, and hence clung to, his jacket during ‘Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln’, and in Blonde repeatedly dropping Pedrillo to the floor with a thud in ‘Welche Wonne, welche Lust’.
The production was not just about generating laughs, however, and interesting details were rendered throughout. When at the start Belmonte and Pedrillo met they threw their arms around each other before Pedrillo was forced to bow and adjust Belmonte’s coat, thus highlighting the hierarchies involved. As Konstanze sang ‘Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele’ a servant applied perfume to her arms, employing hand gestures that proved intriguing rather than distracting. As the Pasha attempted to conquer Konstanze his stripping to the waist during ‘Martern aller Arten’ conveyed strength and virility, but also suggested how over the course of the aria Konstanze was actually disarming him.
Musically, the evening worked very well in the larger setting, with several of the performers being used to projecting in the vast Albert Hall. Edgaras Montvidas as Belmonte had a highly pleasing tenor with strong chest notes, and as Konstanze, Sally Matthews revealed excellent precision and control as she asserted her rich and sumptuous soprano.
This performance also contrasted to good effect the ‘serious’ relationship of Belmonte and Konstanze with the comical one of Pedrillo and Blonde. The idea was seen through from start to finish but particularly came to the fore in the Quartet that closes Act II where Belmonte and Konstanze seemed genuinely heart-broken at any thoughts of unfaithfulness while Pedrillo (a superb Brenden Patrick Gunnell) and Blonde (an excellent Mari Eriksmoen) looked like they were simply having the type of argument that Marcello and Musetta might have. Tobias Kehrer was an outstanding Osmin, embracing the oafish character while asserting a bass voice with seemingly bottomless depths, while Franck Saurel’s spoken voice conveyed perfectly the Pasha’s sense of noble authority. Robin Ticciati’s conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was also excellent, combining precision and lightness with passion and pace.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is one of three productions that will feature in the 2015 Glyndebourne on Tour season. For further details click here.