WORKS: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
PERFORMER: Markus John, Eva Mei, Patrizia Ciofi, Rainer Trost, Mehrzad Montazeri, Kurt Rydl; Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta; dir. Eike Gramss (Teatro della Pergola, Florence, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: Arthaus 107 109 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16: 9 picture format)
In this 2002 production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, created in the wake of 9/11, one feels director Eike Gramss delicately manoeuvring through the anti-Muslim sentiments of its libretto. For noble characters, he focuses on interiority, using silence, nuanced glances and tragic reflection to give their characterisation depth. For servant characters, he deflects the dialogue’s slips of taste with physicality. Osmin, Blonde and Pedrillo work tirelessly, carrying water buckets, winding and unwinding turbans.Thanks to conductor Zubin Mehta’s precision, the ensembles coalesce brilliantly despite this on-stage commotion. But solos by comic characters tend to drift, their music fragmented by the singer’s ceaseless activity.
The true star is Mehta. The heat of his allegros, the languor of his rallentandos, the delicacy with which he brings out solo instrumental writing make Mozart’s music at once profound and exotic. Soprano Eva Mei capitalises on Mehta’s direction, her nobility of expression growing until the climactic finale. Bass Kurt Rydl also turns Mehta’s tempos to his advantage, adding a percussive edge to his parlando to sweep the audience forward. A rare false tone is struck by the miscast soprano Patrizia Ciofi as Blonde: although mistress of the notes, she struggles with the German dialogue and reduces this stalwart ‘free-born Englishwoman’ to a flouncy diva. The mis-en-scène, with its sly pokes at 18th-century stagecraft – sliding scene flats and mechanised beasts – is charming. The naïve quality of the DVD’s production is less so, with booming floorboards sometimes drowning out dialogue, and camera wobble visible in panned shots. This performance deserved a better commemoration. Berta Joncus