Watching Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Bayerische Staatsoper in the production by Martin Duncan is a blast from the past: no surtitles! I listened to recordings a couple of times following the libretto, to remind myself of the details of the plot and how they fit in the music. You know, like we aficionados were all doing until some 25 years ago. I must admit that it was refreshing and I quite enjoyed it. Moreover, the spoken German dialogue was substituted by the narration of an actress, the excellent Demet Gül, who supplied the account of the events between musical numbers. These daring choices had several consequences: the best one is that they brought the music front and centre, which was a blessing, given the great performance of the Bayerische Staatsorchester under the baton of Ivor Bolton. The style was perfect and elegant, the solo interventions of the various instruments masterfully executed and the orientalisms kept in line. Bolton supported the singers throughout with clear attacks and closures. His flamboyant conducting style was a much more interesting theatrical performance than the one happening on stage.

Entführung aus dem Serail (2015 production)
© Wilfried Hösl

The staging consisted of flying sofas, moving horizontally back and forth, on which the singers sat and sang. Not much was happening on stage, which, combined with the absence of dialogues, made the whole experience similar to a concert, and not even an opera in concert, but a concert of one aria after the next. It was not particularly inspiring. There was a vague Disney feeling: each sofa had a strong primal colour, with the dancer or the singer sitting on it dressed in the same colour – kind of like the colour-matched centaurs in Fantasia.

A fun aspect of this production was that the singers would turn to the narrator for suggestions on what to do next, almost as if they didn’t know the plot. They would mime questions to her and she would encourage them, steering them on as they sang.

Pavol Breslik gave a truly enjoyable performance as Belmonte. His clear tenor sounded more robust in the middle register, which gave Belmonte authority and strength, besides style and elegance. “Ich baue ganz” was lyrical and passionate, supported by a flawless legato and great breath control. His voice does seem especially suited to Mozart.

Hans-Peter König sang Osmin with a confidence and an arrogance that made him one of the most successful singers of the evening. His deep bass is very well suited to the part, sonorous even at low D level, and he has the perfect physique du rôle. His aria “O, wie will ich triumphieren” was particularly rewarding, he navigated the coloratura passage by slowing it down and turning it into a comic gag, with the unfaltering support of Bolton from the pit.

Konstanze was Sofia Fomina: she displayed a strong command of the coloratura, something which is no trivial matter, given how fiendishly difficult Konstanze’s part is. Her voice perhaps lacked charisma, sounding a bit too uniform, and the non-existent staging and direction did not help. Her high notes were very secure and brilliant. The same critique can be applied to the other woman in the cast, Gloria Rehm, whose soprano proved to be silvery and suitably sparkling for Blonde’s part, albeit maybe somewhat generic. Manuel Gunther, as Pedrillo, completed the singing cast. His tenor was light and pleasant; he did a good job with “In Mohrenland”, but he wasn't given the change to sing Pedrillo's duet with Osmin “Vivat Bacchus”, which was given to  Breslik's.

The highlight of the evening was the Act 2 finale, where the four lovers reunite and celebrate their love: everything came together in an explosion of joy and excitement. This was a "family performance" and many children were present in the audience, some of them very young. I was amazed at how well behaved these small humans were in the theatre – and with no surtitles! It warms my heart to see young generations at the opera, even if I fail to see how an opera about kidnapping, threats of sexual violence and torture would be recommended for a child. But no matter. Mozart’s music transcends all, so long live the children in the audience at the Bayerische Staatsoper!