Nothing shocks a Berliner. It is not unusual to see naked bodies on-stage, or even in its many public parks and lakes. At 16, youths are allowed to drink alcohol and visit dance clubs. Elektra is even offered as a family opera outing. So when Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio is listed as being recommended for a public aged 16 and up, one must seriously consider the implications. Deutsche Oper Berlin did us all a favor with this age recommendation for its première, but unfortunately I would not recommend this performance to any age group.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> at Deutsche Oper © Thomas Aurin
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Deutsche Oper
© Thomas Aurin

Stage director Rodrigo Garcia is known as an enfant terrible in the drama world, but this production is merely terrible. Reportedly, Garcia idolizes Mozart, so it is especially regretful that he has completely shredded one of the composer's most beloved works. With a lesbian Bassa Selim, crack cocaine production and consumption, naked young ladies sans body hair, group fondling which was more like the petting of dogs, a monster truck with vomiting passengers, childish camera tricks, and an abysmal and acoustically ruinous stage setting, Garcia gives the audience elements of Breaking Bad, A Clockwork Orange, and Orange is the new Black, removing as much as possible from the essence of a Mozart opera.

In his Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart manages to amuse and delight, while also encouraging thoughtful contemplation. The Singspiel was his first grand operatic success, premiered in 1782. Lighthearted themes mix with serious emotions perfectly; the 'Turkish' musical effects of cymbals and piccolos in the score add allure, a lover contemplates the depths and truth of his feelings, a female victim of sexual exploitation must be rescued. Unfortunately in this production, everything is seen as crass and ironic. The beautiful overture is treated to a film of a rocky road trip and car-sick occupants. Belmonte's aria on his love for the kidnapped Konstanze features a running ménage à trois film in the background. Nothing beautiful or noble is allowed to remain untouched. Funny is turned into vulgar, all of the dialogue replaced with simple vulgarities.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> at Deutsche Oper © Thomas Aurin
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Deutsche Oper
© Thomas Aurin

Kathryn Lewek performs admirably as Konstanze, including impressive, athletic feats during coloratura arias. Tobias Kehrer proved that he has the low notes for Osmin, but often disappoints by singing off-pitch in his upper ranges. Garcia turns the Pasha's elite household guards into frumpy, bathrobe wearing lumps. They can barely be heard, are dreary to behold and do not move at all; a misuse of the excellent Deutsche Oper Chorus. Annabelle Mandeng, in the role of Bassa Selim, spoke the vulgar texts well. Matthew Newlin offered a fine performance of Belmonte, especially when his voice was not lost in the acoustics of the poor staging.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> at Deutsche Oper © Thomas Aurin
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Deutsche Oper
© Thomas Aurin

Unfortunately, the normally wonderful Deutsche Oper Orchestra and conductor Donald Runnicles could not rescue this production. There was no sparkle in their Mozart, alas.

At curtain calls the audience was largely respectful in its applause, even generous. This, until, the stage director and production crew refused to take the stage and face the audience – as is tradition at opera premières. Then, the infuriated audience voiced its opinion in loud cries of 'boo' and 'pfui!' – a wonderful German word meaning “Yucky,” often spoken to naughty dogs and perfectly appropriate for this production. Pfui, Mr Garcia, Pfui.

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