Giorgio Strehler’s 1965 production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, revived by Mattia Testi, is so smooth and clean as to look aseptic at times. Strehler staged a “sophisticated Singspiel”, which sounds quite an oxymoron if one thinks of the popular roots of the genre, but gives an idea of the refined atmosphere in which the director immersed a popular story: the adventures of Belmonte who, with the help of Pedrillo, tries to rescue his beloved Konstanze who is imprisoned in the harem of the Turkish Pasha Selim, guarded by the lascivious Osmin.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> © Luciano Romano
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© Luciano Romano

Most of us found this staging really satisfying, while others were totally seduced by it. As a Singspiel with frequent spoken dialogue, it was intended to be comic. Strehler’s familiarity with commedia dell’arte allowed him to reinvent the story, attuning it to traditional Italian comic plays, although conveyed in a highly stylized fashion, with a self-satisfied regard.

On stage, lighting create a shadow line in the forefront, which the characters cross when they have to sing, making them become silhouettes, plunged as they are into darkness, thus highlighting the musical part of the Singspiel. Strehler's work is elegant and smart and avoids being too hectic. Visually wonderful, it is “theatre for theatre’s sake”, a perfect dramaturgical clockwork, while scenes and costumes (by the late Luciano Damiani) create a world separate from actual life, showcasing the staging repertoire of one of the greatest and most innovative directors ever, who died 20 years ago.

And he does so, never (thankfully) giving any cues towards the culture clash between Islam and Christianity or similar, which is a must in most contemporary Regietheater directions,  overly searching for social or political messages.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> © Luciano Romano
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© Luciano Romano

In the role of Konstanze, soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo was great: passionate and technically impeccable, exact and agile in the coloratura passages, warm and moving in her vibrato. She was more than superb in her duet with Belmonte, and in the wonderful quartet at the end of Act 2. Most formidable of all was her performance of the long aria “Martern aller Arten”, a dreadful one for all sopranos, which Schiavo performed gorgeously.

Tenor Steve Davislim was her attractive fiancé Belmonte, singing the role of ardent lover with a mellow and rich tone. Davislim was handsome and elegant and brought out also the thoughtful side of a role which is demanding for deep breath and firm tone control.

Likewise, soprano Regula Mühlemann was a beautiful Blonde, with her bright and agile soprano, showing plenty of temperament and a very good technique.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> © Luciano Romano
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
© Luciano Romano

Bass Bjarni Thor Kristinsson stole more of the show as Osmin, Pasha Selim’s overseer and harem guard. He was less frightening than hilarious; his costume, a huge turban and enormous, puffy Turkish pants, adding up to a cartoonish look. His voice was firm and he sang effortlessly the lowest notes of this challenging role, also showing resonant richness in the rest of the range. Mert Süngü was a dexterous Pedrillo, Belmonte’s cunning servant. His fresh and deft tenor was well suited to the role, and his comic timing was perfect.  

The Pasha (a spoken role), with his love for Konstanze and his final clemency, is a fascinating character, well played by a fine actor, Karl-Heinz Macek, who wore an elaborate costume which produced an odd noise when dragged on the floor.

German conductor Hansjörg Albrecht chose an even-tempered and cautious playing, without much chuckling and chortling, as his musical characterisation sounded little assertive. The orchestra's performance was very good, as was the chorus.

****1