Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Singspiel in three acts (1782)
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner
In German with English and Italian subtitles
For the past five days I have been traveling throughout northern Italy with my good friend Francesco (Fra to me). On Thursday, we went to La Scala to see Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
The orchestra’s oboist was absolutely fantastic. His tone was the sweetest, purest sound that I have ever heard. He coupled that with an excellent sense of rhythm and articulate, bouncy staccato. La Scala needs to make sure to keep this guy around for many, many years. (Or, stamp “JFK” on his forehead and ship him to the Met. That would be wonderful, too.)
Zubin Mehta led a crisp, tidy overture. I especially liked the quality of the string section. It suited the character of the opera.
My favorite moment occurred right after the overture. Here, Mozart seamlessly connected the second theme of the opening with the first number by way of a simple tonality change — a minor chord altered to major by raising the third. In this split second, it sounded like the heavens opened up.*
La Scala’s lighting decisions were odd. The part of the stage jutting out into the audience was almost entirely dark. Since singers oftentimes performed on this platform, I really did not understand why the production did not choose to illuminate them. They definitely have the technology available to do so.
I was impressed by the two leads. Lenneke Ruiten as Konstanze made the coloratura runs sound quite easy. And Mauro Peter as Belmonte infused his performance with an appropriately-distraught longing.
Cornelius Obonya as Selim had a thick Viennese accent (his “r”’s were emphatically rolled.) I wonder what kind of German opera companies strive for (probably Standard). Since Obonya is a native speaker, they probably just left his speech alone.
Taking brief glances at the subtitle screens, I noticed that the singers were sometimes off-script. Their improv was especially apparent during the spoken sections. My guess: since four members of the cast were native speakers, they said what felt more comfortable to them. “Ganz in der Nähe” for example was substituted for “In der Nähe.” Probable cause: the first is heard more often than the latter.
I really liked La Scala’s acoustics. I wonder what gives it its quality, velvety sound. (Perhaps the type of wood used to build the hall?)
La Scala — like the Paris Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic — is sponsored by Rolex. Three musical organizations, three times Rolex! Given the flashy, golden halls in which these groups perform, their sponsor makes complete sense.
Tonight’s production smelled dusty. It looked like the backdrop for a 1980s video game. In the background, a rickety, dilapidated boat intermittently sailed by, a sad, pitiable sight.
However, I did enjoy the production’s fourth wall breaks. In one scene, Osmin spoke to the conductor in Italian, telling him to start up the orchestra. Italian was also used in the wine scene for comedic effect. (Many thanks to Fra for his translations after the show.)
An important theme in this opera is orientalism. Notwithstanding the occasional cymbal crash and triangle chattering, the music did not sound overtly so. Analyzing the opera using Edward Said’s work, however, would be an exciting endeavor.
Another interesting research topic would be an analysis of contemporary female-male relationships. The work seems to exude the simple “male-rescues-female” trope, but, upon further investigation, women exercise more power than one might originally think.
A few days later, while careening through the Italian Alps in a baby-blue Fiat Panda, Fra and I listened to Mehta conducting a studio production of the same opera from 1974. We played and re-played that CD several times, as we climbed, swerved, and switch-backed through the mountainside. Yet, all the while, Mozart remained fresh, eternally timeless.
Die Entführung continues to enchant.
* Quick check-in on gender disparity: 1. One female clarinetist. Rest of winds male (Palais Garnier’s wind section had exactly the same ratio. Strange.). 2. No brass. No percussion. 3. About even in the strings. 4. None of the principal seats were held by women. None. Something is wrong here.
Fra and me during Act II’s intermission