Combine a pleasing production, in a stunning venue (The Academy of Music), located on one of the most picturesque streets in Philadelphia – the Avenue of the Arts – with the marvelous music of Mozart, and you have the makings of a lovely winter afternoon.

Per Bach Nissen (Osmin) in the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s new production of The Abduction fro © Kelly & Massa Photography
Per Bach Nissen (Osmin) in the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s new production of The Abduction fro
© Kelly & Massa Photography

As I stepped into the street, I remember wishing more February days could have been like this one. Opera Company of Philadelphia’s international cast was solid if not spectacular, the production values strong, and the audience was friendly and generous.

Their newest offering, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was cleverly told. From the opening notes of the overture, the creative team led by director Robert B. Diver sought to captivate the audience by rolling old-fashioned Hollywood-style cinema credits and then showing World War I movie clips, drawing us into the drama about to unfold.

It’s hardly a complicated tale: a young Spanish pilot attempts to rescue his love from an Ottoman harem, which involves the requisite swashbuckling and hoodwinking in a Turkish seraglio. So, the novelty of integrating movie clips and old-time images into the set was most welcome. Though Abduction is not Mozart’s first opera, it is the earliest of his operas still performed today. As such, Mozart had not yet hit his stride, which is apparent in the pace and the flow of this work as compared to later operas. This must have been the impetus for incorporating all the film clips – to pep up a piece that might otherwise have been glacially slow and flat in spots.

More than any other quality, this production was fun and frolicsome, especially because the supporting players were adept at acting and singing comedically. As Pedrillo, Polish tenor Krystian Adam’s comic timing was sheer perfection. His singing – clear and powerful – also ensnared listeners. As his pert love interest Blonde, American soprano Elizabeth Reiter was his comic and vocal equal. But it was the boorish overseer Osmin, portrayed by Danish bass Per Bach Nissen, who stole the audience favorite prize that afternoon. Comical singing is expected, and though it can be very demanding vocally, he delivered. Hilarious antics, even appearing half naked in a Turkish towel, were required in this production. He willingly made a buffoon of himself, and the audience rewarded his devotion to the role with a huge ovation at curtain call.

The lovers Belmonte and Konstanze, played by Spanish tenor Antonio Lozano and American soprano Elizabeth Zharhoff, are charged with delivering a generous amount of difficult singing in solos and duets, and performed admirably. Clear-headed and capable, Konstanze is an interesting and refreshing female character, for Mozart, especially given the time at which which her character was created. In retrospect, I would have liked more adoration, more chemistry between the two lovers, especially since he flew halfway around the world in a biplane to rescue her (at least in this version he did).

The Academy of Music has fantastic acoustics for singers who were showcased to perfection under conductor Corrado Rovaris’ baton. This production might have been the first time people laughed through an overture under his aegis, because of the comical images showing on the screen at the same time. It occurred to me that Rovaris was quite a good sport for this show, supporting it however the director saw fit, even if it meant his talented orchestra was not the star of the overture – a Mozart overture at that, mind you.

I might have liked even more profuse color splashed on the gargantuan all-white set, and perhaps more exotic dancing, since the style of dance would be so different than many operas in the repertoire. At least performers weren’t singing in the dark or in dimly lit spaces much, which isn’t nearly as appealing to audience members as directors think it is.

Opera Company of Philadelphia consistently endeavors to deliver a whole and fulfilling operatic experience with each show, and they came very close to capturing perfection with this Abduction.

****1