The harem is the richer for a new trophy concubine from Europe, whom Pasha Selim cossets like a fairy princess, so far without getting to first base. In a role that calls for both spoken dialogue as well as vocals of staggering virtuosity—this is populist Singspiel, not courtly grand opera—all the lady talks about is her esteem for her lord and master and her need for more time. But the medium she pours her soul out in is music, and all she sings about is Belmonte, the lover from whom pirates snatched her on the high seas. Meet Konstanze, the heroine of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), whose name tells all. Little does she suspect that Belmonte is already within the harem walls, plotting her rescue.
On the face of it, David McVicar’s handsome production of Mozart’s Orientalist fantasy, filmed live at Glyndebourne on July 19, 2015, looks traditional to a fare-thee-well. Yet the chemistry between the honey-blonde British soprano Sally Matthews, as Konstanze, and the pantherine French actor Franck Saurel, as the benevolent non-singing Muslim despot, blows the Enlightenment pieties of the libretto sky-high. She can’t keep her hands off him, dissolving into his kisses and embraces as if in a dream—until, at the exact midpoint of the opera, his patience snaps, and she erupts in vocal fireworks of mixed pleas and defiance that spell total war. Where on earth can they go from here?
Ordinarily in opera, he who does not sing does not much count. But Saurel’s melancholy animal magnetism, along with the velvety growl of his speaking voice, nullifies the rule. “May you never regret having turned down my heart,” his Pasha tells Konstanze as she boards ship with Belmonte—a valedictory bromide that pierces the heart like an arrow.
As mesmerizing as Saurel, Matthews sleepwalks through the emotional minefields even as she luxuriates in flights of coloratura as ornate as Mozart ever devised. But her Konstanze is choosing the wrong man, and she knows it. For all his mellifluous arias and other musical opportunities, the tenor Edgaras Montvidas comes off less as her guardian seraph than a stuffed shirt. It’s the rare Belmonte who doesn’t.
Mirroring the love triangle among the élite, there’s a love triangle below stairs, where the soprano Mari Eriksmoen rules the roost as Konstanze’s maid Blonde. Once the rescue operation is underway, she’s all raging hormones for the strapping tenor Brenden Gunnell as Belmonte’s manservant Pedrillo—a wilier strategist than his master, with a nifty potpourri of hit show tunes to sing. Too bad that the Pasha has made a gift of Blonde to his overseer, the sexist paper tiger Osmin, at whom Blonde spits fire and throws plates. Osmin’s part demands a bass virtuoso with boffo technique, cavernous low notes, and a gift for low physical comedy, all of which the burly Tobias Kehrer delivers in spades. Robin Ticciati conducts.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is available for streaming on the Glyndebourne Encore Web site
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL.He lives in Hawaii