Die Entführung aus dem Serail is perhaps the most famous opera exemplifying Turquoiserie: the “Turkish” fashion movement which swept Europe in the 17th and 18th century, touching every art form, as well as interior decoration and cuisine. Mozart’s music loosely takes inspiration from – and gives a westernised version of – Ottoman Janissary music, adding cymbals, bells, piccolo and a generous dose of bass drum.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© T+T Fotografie | Tanja Dorendorf (2016)

The Orchestra La Scintilla, under the baton of Riccardo Minasi, did not shy away from such orientalisms, but embraced them with vigour, albeit always with elegance and propriety. The result was an exciting, fun performance, where a true Mozartian style shone through. The original instruments gave us a crisp sound, at times a little dry, but the dynamics were imaginative and carefully prepared, and the instruments’ solos well executed.

The opera is a comic Singspiel (with spoken dialogue) telling the story of a European noblewoman, Konstanze, who is abducted and imprisoned in the seraglio of a gentlemanly Ottoman, Bassa Selim, who, instead of treating her as a slave, desperately tries to win her love and affection. Konstanze’s fiancé, Belmonte, arrives to rescue her, while Osmin, the Pasha’s superintendent, tries to subvert his endeavours. Konstanze’s maid, Blonde, and her boyfriend, Pedrillo, are also enslaved by the Pasha, and take part in the escape plot. In the end, the plot is revealed and disrupted, but the Pasha forgives them all and lets them return to their homeland for a (quite unbelievable) happy ending.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© T+T Fotografie | Tanja Dorendorf (2016)

None of this happens in David Hermann’s production. The spoken dialogue is removed altogether, which leaves the director with a bunch of arias and a few ensembles. He then finds a plot that fits the words, kind of like in a jukebox musical (Mamma Mia came to mind). The story Hermann tells is that of a modern couple, and Belmonte’s nightmarish journey into his own insecurity, his jealousy, his terror that Konstanze has betrayed him with the Pasha. The lower class couple, Blonde and Pedrillo, is turned into alter-egos of the protagonists, their hair, costumes, and gestures reflecting them. Osmin is the maître d’ in a fancy modern restaurant owned (maybe) by Pasha Selim. The Pasha is probably a figment of Belmonte’s imagination, an embodiment of his jealousy and of Konstanze’s desire. Some of the arias fit very well this interpretation, like when in “Martern aller arten” Konstanze sings about her resolution to face torture and threats not to a bullying Pasha, but to Belmonte, who has turned violent in his jealousy. 

And in the bubbly aria “Welche Wonne, welche Lust”, Blonde, who acts like a mechanical doll, represents the Konstanze who Belmonte would want: a doll who caters to his every whim. In the duet “Viva Bacchus”, where Pedrillo gets Osmin drunk, the two of them end up in bed together – maybe a reference to Belmonte’s suppressed homosexuality? Overall, although the idea is understandable, it seems preposterous and pretentious, a way to show “look how clever I am, I can make Stephanie’s libretto fit a completely different story”. I did not find any merit in this operation, did not understand the reason for it, and found it did not help Mozart’s music in the least. When the revolving stage turns around to show different rooms (sets by Bettina Meyer) different extremely annoying noises are heard, reminiscent of what outer space sounds like in sci-fi movies. These are not produced by the revolving stage, but added on purpose by the director, as part of the production.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© T+T Fotografie | Tanja Dorendorf (2016)

Sofia Fomina sang a solid Konstanze, her high notes secure and brilliant. Her coloratura had some hiccups here and there, but nothing to ruin a good performance overall. Daniel Behle’s light tenor is very suited to Mozart and he sang Belmonte with passion and pathos. His two great arias were both extremely successful. Blonde was Rebeca Olvera, whose brilliant soprano gave Blonde all the spirit of the character, and she was well matched by Nathan Haller’s very light tenor, which proved to be strong and gave Pedrillo good presence.

Ante Jerkunica was a great Osmin: his bass was powerful and with a smooth, mellow quality, very enjoyable. His super-low notes suffered a bit from the low tuning of the original-instrument orchestra, but they came through with authority. When he showed up dressed as a stereotypical Turkish warrior, with turban, scimitar and Moorish babouches for “O wie will ich triumphieren” he was a sight – and gave a great interpretation of this difficult aria.

Indeed, all the singers were very committed to the director’s vision and showed remarkable acting abilities; Behle in particular was very credible as a lost, psychotic Belmonte unable to face his demons.

**111