A revolution in the structure of opera composition commenced with
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice which was premiered in 1764.
Gluck and his librettist set out to bury the older tradition of opera
seria with its static display arias and preceding recitative,
either accompanied on a piano-type instrument or 'dry',
that is wholly dependant on the solo singer. They aimed to compose
works of real drama and theatre. As the young Mozart embarked on his
first operas, with successes such as La
finta giardiniera, premiered in 1774 and, the following
year, Il re pastore, he developed the genre further. Both
works were sung in Italian, as was the tradition in Vienna. However,
change was afoot with Emperor Joseph II keen to promote the presentation
of opera in German singspiel and specifically for presentation at
the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by him. The singspiel format
involved the use of spoken dialogue, in preference to recitative,
as the story moved forward and without eschewing formal arias and
Mozart got into the singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg winter
with the revision of La finta giardiniera into Die gärtnerin
aus liebe. He then began the composition of a further singspiel.
Perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia
for all things Turkish this 'exotic' theme was the basis
of the composition. However, after a while and with no prospect of
a staging, Mozart abandoned it, leaving it without overture or final
dénouement of the second act finale. The incomplete opera came
to be called Zaide.
The Intendant at the Burgtheater had been impressed with what he had
seen of Mozart’s Zaide and promised him a new libretto
on the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm.
In the work the composer adopts formal musical structures in pursuit
of simplicity, not hesitating to include elaborate arias and complex
textures in the orchestra. Die Entführung aus dem Serail
was premiered on 16 July 1782 and became Mozart’s first truly
outstanding operatic success. Its music is full of invention and vitality
as well as having particular vocal challenges for the heroine. Mozart’s
concern for the Turkish aspect underlies the whole work and is also
reflected in the many additions he had made to the original libretto
supplied to him.
In the accompanying booklet notes under the heading The Performance,
the author argues that the librettos for this work and Mozart’s
other great singspiel, Die Zauberflöte, "are weak
and confront directors with the problem of how to turn a naïve
story into a creditable production". He states that this has
led to efforts to tell the story "through numerous different
interpretations over the past few decades". That is true with
updated and what we call 'regietheater' productions
often the norm. One likes them or one does not. My own view is that
if a composer looking down on a performance from wherever establishment
de repos he may inhabit, does not recognise his creation
without the benefit of his accompanying music, then the producer’s
concept has failed. Here, producer Hans Neuenfels aims to retain the
story’s naivety and absurdity by splitting the characters, placing
an actor at every singer’s side. The actor not only takes over
his role for the spoken dialogue, but interacts with the singer and
other characters. This seems to involve changes to the dialogue and
interactions that the author calls "moments of existential enigma"
that, I suggest, Mozart would not have recognised.
Trying hard to put any preconceived prejudices aside I embarked on
my viewing. I found the overture to be rather frenetic. As for the
doubling, sometimes the singer speaks the words, this is confusing
and the additions are presumptuous. The meeting between Belmonte and
Pedrillo (CH.6) involving four people is a good example. The video
director uses excessive close-ups of faces and pistols are waved about.
The singing is adequate with Roland Bracht pleasingly sonorous as
Osmin whilst Matthias Link has an uncomfortable edge to his tenor.
Otherwise the singing cast is less convincing and more provincial
than the kind of casting usually seen in recorded presentations. I
cannot say that I enjoyed the experience in any manner but recognise
that others might.
Robert J Farr
Sung cast: Konstanze, Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte and captured
by Selim – Catherine Naglestad (soprano); Belmonte, Spanish
nobleman, beloved of Konstanze – Matthias Klink (tenor); Blonde,
maid to Konstanze – Kate Ladner (soprano); Pedrillo, Belmonte’s
servant and overseer of Bassa's garden – Heinz Göhrig
(tenor); Osmin, overseer of Bassa's villa – Roland Bracht
Spoken cast: Bassa Selim: Johannes Terne; Konstanze: Emanuela von
Frankenberg; Blonde: Carola Friewald; Belmonte: Alexander Bognor;
Pedrillo: Alexander von Heldenreich; Osmin: Andrea Grötzinger
Chorus and Orchestra of the Staatsoper Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
Stage Director: Hans Neuenfels
Set Design: Christian Scmidt
Costume Design: Bettina Merz
rec. live, 1999
Video Director: Janos Darvas
Picture format: 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German (original language), English, French, Spanish
Booklet notes and synopsis: English, French, GermanThis double casting
of actors and singers does not add much to Mozart’s first great