After his sensational Albert Herring for the Grange Festival in 2017, John Copley returns to direct one of his personal favourites; his view of the work has not changed significantly since the seminal 1970 production at the ENO, since this one is a return to the past in that it is simple, straightforward and places the music before any extraneous interpretation. In many ways it is similar to the 2015 Glyndebourne production by John McVicar, although the latter was rather more extravagant and fielded mostly very experienced singers, whilst the present staging, remarkably, is almost all carried out by role debutants.
In Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus the Emperor Joseph says of the piece; “It’s clever. It’s German. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes.” Whether or not he ever said this in real life is debatable, although some might feel that whilst some of the notes are not in themselves superfluous, they present challenges which tax the singers a little too much. Ed Lyon’s handsome, patrician Belmonte had a little trouble with one or two decorations in one of his arias, but his voice is noble of timbre and always used with taste – ‘O wie ängstlich’ conveyed the fearful lover’s qualms very finely.
His Konstanze was Kiandra Howarth, who bears a resemblance to the young Lucia Popp although as yet the voice is not at that level. She was a credible and sympathetic heroine, at her best in the sublime duet with Belmonte; her singing of the arias, though possessing plenty of sparkle, veered towards the strident at times. Daisy Brown’s Blonde was the conventional spiky maid, her very light voice ideal for the role if now and again a little on the piercing side.
Paul Curievici was a lively, astute Pedrillo and, together with Jonathan Lemalu’s amiable Osmin, showed the strongest vocal confidence. Lemalu’s was an almost cuddly character, beautifully sung and enunciated in crystal clear tones – so it seemed strange that Alexander Andreou’s Pasha was given a sort of Greek / Turkish accent. This Pasha was also a fairly benevolent personage – obviously this Seraglio is not too violent a place despite the attempts to appear so.
Jean-Luc Tingaud and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra gave a sparkling account of the score, alive to the needs of the singers and relishing the ‘Turkish’ elements in the music. The Grange Festival Chorus was splendid, especially when extolling the Pasha’s merits. David Parry’s translation provided some laughs, although some might feel that surtitles render it unnecessary to sing in English, given that no translation – no matter how stylish – can really equal the cadence of the original language.
Tim Reed’s design sets extravagantly beautiful costumes against a fairly plain, vaguely Moorish backdrop, and Kevin Treacy’s lighting is artfully used to show morning and evening. As always with a Copley production, the focus is on the singers and the interactions between them, and this very traditional staging will please many who have become disenchanted with the type of production where singing seems peripheral to a political or social point.