Thursday, 9 November 2017

Semperoper Dresden: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

2 November 2017

We got a little more than we bargained for with this Die Entführung aus dem Serail, as became clear with a pre-performance announcement. The billed Konstanze, Hulkar Sabirova, had been taken ill, and was being replaced Gloria Rehm, who’d just about had time to be run through the production.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Semperoper (Photo © Jochen Quast)

Rather more last–minute was the cancellation of the Osmin, Michael Eder. A replacement had been found in the shape of Mischa Schelomianski, but he’d barely had time to be fitted into his costume. He ended up having to go through the show with the help of a newly rustled-up sidekick, played by an assistant director, who steered him around, occasionally handing him a script, often, given some witty improvisation in character, to unexpectedly amusing effect. 

Inevitably this made for some difficulty in judging the general direction of the characters in Michiel Dijkema’s new-ish production (one of last seasons premieres). But it did nothing to hide the fact that this is an appealing, imaginative and witty show, designed (by Dijkema) with tongue firmly in cheek and on a grandly pantomimic scale.

Much of it felt as much like Die Zauberflöte as Entführung, highlighting some interesting parallels between the rulers that feature in each. Here we had a mysterious eastern landscape of moveable mini-islands covered in reeds and rather triste-looking trees; a wrought gate and a chunk of fortress (also moveable); threatening clouds glowering behind; dialogue distantly accompanied by an ominous background hum and rumble.

Costumes were bright and exaggerated, as were the props: a vast birdcage on wheels to house Pasha Selim’s harem; an array of large instruments of torture—‘Martern aller Arten’ indeed—rising from some fiery upstage depths to the sound of threatening chants. Fans of the Castorf Ring will be pleased to know that the production even includes a crocodile.

It’s bright, engaging and entertaining, then, and while it might not constitute a profound meditation on the issues raised by Mozart’s work—more pertinent today than ever, surely—it certainly doesn’t trivialise them either. And, above all, Dijkema shows himself to be musically sensitive, leaving the musical numbers to speak for themselves, as they did with real eloquence here.

Forming the foundation of the basis performance was beautifully urbane playing from the Staatskapelle: stylish, beautifully shaped and with an easy grace that was helped by Christopher Moulds’s easy–going, non–interventionist approach on the podium. The results were a joy.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Semperoper (Photo © Jochen Quast)

There was some fine singing from the cast too, with Norman Rheinhardt bringing plenty of grace and clean tone to Belmonte, even if the voice did occasionally cloud over a little. I wasn’t that keen on the artful pianissimo he employed on a couple of occasions, either, but this was nevertheless a satisfying, aristocratic and stylish performance.

Rehm’s soprano is a wonderfully bright, luminous one and she sang Konstanze with great allure, and even managed in the rushed circumstances to create a good rapport with Jaron Löwenberg’s charistmatic Pasha Selim. Aaron Pegram and Sibylla Duffe made a lively, engaging pair as Pedrillo and Blonde. And was it me or did Duffe—during her first scene, played out on some sort of giant turnip plantation— interpolate a ‘Brexit’ under her breath between ‘Ich bin eine Engländerin’ and ‘zur Freiheit geboren’?  

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