There are times in opera when “straight” just works. David McVicar’s Glyndebourne Die Entführung aus dem Serail, new for this summer’s festival and just starting its run on tour, is one of those occasions. It’s visually stylish, superbly acted, the attention to detail is pervasive and everything about it screams “werktreue”. We can’t, of course, know Mozart’s original intent, but we can tell that the opera is a balancing act: between light and darkness, farce and serious moral intent, profane and sublime. This production feels right in the way it achieves each one of those balances.

Franck Saurel as Selim © Clive Barda
Franck Saurel as Selim
© Clive Barda
One thing in particular makes this production stand out from other Entführung productions I’ve seen: the attention that is paid to the dialogue. Where other directors treat the dialogue as an annoying addition to be cut and/or replaced by something more interesting/funny/radical, this production keeps the cuts to a minimum. The effect is that the serious part of the opera’s message – the intrinsic goodness and magnanimity of Bassa Selim – comes into balance with the frothy romantic comedy. Non-singing roles are normally the Cinderella parts in opera, but Franck Saurel utterly stole the show from the singers, brilliantly portraying the way Selim has to struggle with himself to forgo doing the obvious (raping Konstanze and executing Belmonte) when he has every opportunity to do so.

Several of those singers struggled to warm up, with the notable exception of Clive Bayley, who reached Osmin’s celebratedly challenging low Ds with little difficulty, producing full and rich timbre while obviously relishing the comic potential in the role: Bayley and McVicar’s Osmin is very much a pantomime villain, with a silly hairdo and robust cheeriness: in the most slapstick-filled scenes in Act II, Blonde (also well sung and acted with comic verve by Rebecca Nelsen) doesn’t have to work too hard to get the better of him, and when Pedrillo gets him drunk, you suspect secretly that this may not have been the first time.

Clive Bayley as Osmin © Clive Barda
Clive Bayley as Osmin
© Clive Barda

Ana Maria Labin, our Konstanze, didn’t convince me in Act I, seemingly able to produce either emotion or coloratura but not both at the same time. But she came out in Act II like a singer transformed, nailing every note in the middle of her show-stopping “Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele”, creating genuine pathos and radiating inner beauty. Mozart’s unique gift is to touch the sublime in the midst of seemingly light-hearted entertainment: Labin’s performance was truly uplifting, and the quartet that closes Act II even more so.

Ben Bliss as Belmonte, Ana Maria Labin as Kostanze © Clive Barda
Ben Bliss as Belmonte, Ana Maria Labin as Kostanze
© Clive Barda
Ben Bliss, as Belmonte, was another slow starter: especially in Act I, the beginnings and ends of syllables tended to get lost under the orchestra, resulting in words being very hard to make out and slightly broken phrasing. As the evening progressed, Bliss seemed to gain in confidence and by the close, he was making a more full contribution. Under Christoph Altstaedt’s baton, the orchestra were sprightly and upbeat from the word go, but also improved as the evening went on as the individual instrumental colours became more clearly denoted.

Vicki Mortimer’s designs are quite beautifully executed: in keeping with Selim’s enlightenment persona, the harem isn’t outrageously bling-filled, but it is full of attractive designs in a Turkish/Moorish style, the Mozart-era costumes are exquisitely made and there is extreme cleverness in the way various parts of the stage move to create different parts of Selim's mansion and its garden.

© Clive Barda
© Clive Barda
But what marks this production out is the attention to detail of McVicar and revival director Ian Rutherford, with a hundred individual touches. To name three: the portrayal of Selim’s home as a happy one as he is surrounded by his wives and children, the enthusiasm with which Osmin vandalises Pedrillo’s gardening work with a pair of secateurs or the slightly lingering gaze that Konstanze gives Selim as she sails into the sunset at the end (how sure is she, one questions, that she has chosen the right man?) For an opera with as ludicrous a plot as Entführung, it’s a real achievement to turn it into something that’s actually thought provoking. This is an opera with something of everything: some laughs, some tears, some thrills, some vocal virtuosity, some moralising, some silly songs, some melodies to remember. This production might not be 100% there on the singing – and you have to assume that it will only improve as the tour progresses – but it ticks all the boxes.