Review: BBC Proms - The Abduction From The Seraglio @ Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 14th August 2015
Recovering from the mega work of Messiaen's the night prior, there was then an attractive prospect with Mozart and his German singspiel: The Abduction from the Seraglio.
This isn't quite a full opera, since it features many talking segments. Like with The Magic Flute (another example of the singspiel), these Mozart stage works remain evergreen (there is even a Star Trek cross-over). The Albert Hall was very busy, with swarms of keen audience members, including the promers who wanted to tuck into this Turkish treat.
"It is a story of getting back what is rightfully yours"
Very little of the composition (from what we actually hear) is directly influenced by the music from Turkey. There is, however, a lovely use of percussion, rare to find in this era of music (you'd be lucky to see just a timpani!). The percussion does make it almost exotic, but it never fails to ignite the imagination. One chorus number (famously used for the opening for Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?) holds up as one of Wolfgang's most catchy tunes and does have a true exotic excitement to it. With Mozart, the music is all sorts of loveliness, and this may be one of my favourite of his stage works.
The story is of both great comedy and high drama. Konstanze has been kidnapped away to Turkey by pirates. Her lover, Belmonte arrives to save her, only to discover his servant Pedrillo was also taken. The Pasha favours Konstanze as his prize courtesan, but she is only faithful to her love. It is a story of getting back what is rightfully yours, as well as racial tensions, sexual tension, acceptance and forgiveness.
"I'm sure his abs could even be seen on the radio"
Edgaras Montvidas played Belmonte will a foppish Hugh Jackman-like persona. At first feeling like a caricature, his voice and presence soon came through and touched us all. As Konstanze, Sally Matthews is totally empathetic and sung lovingly, totally committed to Belmonte. The huge comic presence of the supporting cast is a pleasing palate cleaner of the fierce dramatic points. The hilarious Brenden Patrick Gunnell as Pedrillo, kurt but playful; Mari Eriksmoen as Blonde; and the deeply sensuous bass singer, Tobias Kehrer as Osmin were all brilliant at what they did. The squabbling, trying on of fay clothes and food fight between Blonde and Osmin in the second act was the comic highlight of the whole evening.
Looking at the credentials of Franck Saurel as the Pasha Selim, it seems, theatre-wise, there's nothing he can't do (clowning, puppetry, commedia dell'arte, urban dance, and more!). However, here, the Pasha is only a spoken role, with no singing whatsoever. Bringing a steamy and fiercely aggressive nature to the role, Saurel is a super great actor. His physique and sexual vitality is also something to totally praise. I'm sure his abs could even be seen on the radio. He redeems himself with his patience and final forgiveness of the events that have unfolded, a fine example of a foreigner portrayed in a very good and noble light in Mozart's era. A sensational debut at the Proms.
"The audience lapped up this Abduction"
Sadly, two programming choices were misguided with this piece at the Proms. The first was the decision not to have surtitles; instead the audience had to read the translated libretto, resulting in annoying fluttery page turns en masse every five minutes. I gave up reading shortly into Act One and tried to guess the story as I went along. With large screens at the back of the stage and the fact that the operas in the round at the hall have surtitles all around, I think it's time the Proms got with the times and got the titles.
The second was the 7pm show time. Considering the length of this work (with two breaks as well), the show should have started half an hour earlier. No show should end later than 10pm (10:15pm at the very latest).
The audience lapped up this Abduction, giving generous applause during the regal arias, duets and chorus. They even clapped at the stagehands for their swift cleaning up of the food fight.
From what I've seen of the production (this being semi-staged), it looks like a lavish affair. The costumes seen on the night were traditionally lavish (period also) and felt like they tell the story in themselves.
Not to be missed on tour.
Mozart's delightful, Turkish treat.
Rating: 4 stars
Listen to this Prom on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after the performance here.
Welsh National Opera's Spring 2016 season, Figaro Forever features brand new productions of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Rossini's The Barber of Seville along with the world premier of Elena Langer's Figaro Gets A Divorce (the conclusion of the Figaro story) at the Wales Millennium Centre, then on tour.
- Review: BBC Proms - Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie @ RAH
- Review: WNO - The Magic Flute @ WMC
- Review: WNO - Cosi fan tutte @ Bristol Hippodrome
Want to win a Sprout T-shirt? Fill in theSprout Satisfaction Survey
Image Credit: BBC website