With only two weeks left in their season, the Metropolitan Opera looked forward to the summer with an exuberant presentation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”) last Friday night. The piece, which premiered in 1782 when the composer was only 26 years old, is a German singspiel – an opera in which spoken dialogue is interspersed between arias and ensembles. The story includes antiquated notions of the relations of East and West and is certainly of its era, but listening to Mozart’s timelessly ebullient music still makes for a mirthful way to spend a springtime evening.
Entführung is set in a Turkish seraglio into which three European travelers – the noble lady Konstanze, her maid Blondchen, and Blondchen’s sweetheart Pedrillo – have been sold into servitude for the ruling Pasha Selim. When the opera begins, Konstanze’s betrothed, the Spanish gentleman Belmonte, has arrived at the harem to rescue Konstanze. But before doing so, he and Pedrillo must outmaneuver the palace overseer Osmin in order to free the ladies, while Konstanze struggles to remain firm against the Pasha’s advances.
Just a week after the Met announced that Music Director James Levine would resign from his position due to health concerns, the conductor was back on the podium for this performance. Thanks to the smaller demands of a chamber orchestra and only half-a-dozen cast members, Levine was able to keep all the musical forces together and led a buoyant yet lithe rendition of Mozart’s early masterpiece.
As Konstanze, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova offered a portrayal marked by refined timbre, rosy tope notes, and crystal clear vocal runs. Shagimuratova especially excelled in delivering Konstanze’s two formidable arias, which she dispatched with both precision and sophistication.
Kathleen Kim brought her characteristically radiant soprano and charming persona to the role of Blondchen who, despite her small stature, goes toe-to-toe with the towering Osmin to protect her modesty. Hers was also an enchanting characterization throughout.
Tenor Paul Appleby sang with a polished focused sound, that, while appropriately Mozartean, often struggled to fill the Met’s expansive auditorium and receded into the background during ensemble singing. Making his Met debut, Brenton Ryan was an adorable Pedrillo. With outgoing physicality and enthusiastic singing, Ryan brought great charisma and winning energy every time he appeared onstage.
Bass Hans-Peter König as Osmin plumbed the depths of his vocal range and sang with a dark, booming sound that nicely complemented his cast mates’ lighter voices. In the spoken role of Pasha Selim, Matthias von Stegmann gave a satisfactory if unremarkable interpretation.
The Met continues to use John Dexter’s 1979 staging of Die Entführung aus dem Serail each time they revive the opera despite the fact that, with its reliance on dusty flat scenery and some garish velvet costuming, is rather outdated. More remarkably, the production does little to address the cultural stereotyping in the source material. Not that Entführung is a terribly offensive piece considering the context of its composition, but this presentation still relies on dark makeup and “Middle Eastern-inspired” clothing to depict the Turkish characters. All this being said, this revival of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail features an accomplished cast that enlivens the evening with (mostly) stellar musical performances, making for an exciting way to celebrate the end of the season.
Performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail run through May 7th with the final performance broadcast live on WQXR 105.9 FM. More information can be found online at the Met’s website.