I just love Mozart's opera, "The Abduction From the Seraglio," and Stephen Wadsworth's production at The San Francisco Opera captures every drop of it's delicious wit, intrigue, and wisdom. There's nothing particularly profound, just a lot of great fun and wonderful singing. The costumes are sumptuous, the sets simple and elegant, and everything is of the period and place, 18th century Turkey. The curtain is a colorful map of the area, with a proscenium arch of a thin wooden frame and a scrim with an arabesque floral design to give a feeling like "1001 Nights."
The farcical tone is set
right at the start as Belmonte stands outside the wooden gate of the Pasha Selim,
trying to get in. The guard, Osmin, walks along the top singing of love and
ignoring him. When Osmin is forced to acknowledge him, they bicker, he throws
fruit down at him, and finally fires a couple musket shots. Belmonte is looking
for Constanze, who has been kidnapped and sold to the Pasha, along with her
servant Blondchen and his servant Pedrillo. The Pasha enters to fanfares. His
servants roll out a red carpet, and in an excellent touch of staging, grated
windows open in the wall and all rejoice inside and out, to the triumphal music.
Constanze is cold and aloof like a prisoner. The Pasha tries to win her, but
she wants none of it. He's distressed because she doesn't love him, she's distressed
because he does. She sings of her love for Belmonte before she was captured,
but now her eyes are filled with tears.
The Pasha meditates on
her faithfulness. It makes him love her more. Pedrillo presents Belmonte as
the architect. The Pasha likes him, but Osmin still won't let him in. Blonde
teases him from on top of the wall. Belmonte and Pedrillo grab him, tie him
up, and throw a net over him in their comedic trio, then run inside.
Act 2 is the interior of the palace. It's beautiful Middle-Eastern architecture. Osmin's after Blondchen. She complains about his rudeness and endlessly bossy manner. She wants to hit him over the head, but resists, and tells him how European girls expect to be wooed, flattered, and treated with gentleness. The oaf doesn't have a clue. He gropes her, she pushes him away. She's embroidering, he starts to pull his dagger, she grabs his wrist, strokes him under the chin, and cajoles and teases. He says, "We are in Turkey; I am your master, you are my slave - you will obey." She says in English, "Here I am, an English girl talking to a Turk in German. No wonder we can't understand." He grabs her, she threatens to poke his eye out with a needle. In an aside she says, again in English, "You know, things are going to be very different around here once I'm in charge." He counters with, "Oh Englishmen, what fools you are to let women have their way." She finishes the duet with "A heart that's born to freedom can't be enslaved."
After he leaves, she laments their fate. Constanze laments how sad she's become since they were captured. All joy's gone now. She tells Blonde how lucky she is to be able to accept their fate. Blonde replies that she never gives up, they might be the first women to escape. The Pasha hears and threatens her if she won't love him. She says she would willingly face torture, and death will set her free in the end. She grabs his dagger to turn it on herself, but he stops her as he realizes he will gain nothing through force.
When Pedrillo tells Blonde that Belmonte's here with a plan to escape, she wants to run off and tell Constanze. When he tells her he loves her, she's ecstatic, and bursts into song about her love. It's night in the garden as Pedrillo plies Osmin with wine. He drags him off on a giant pillow as a cutout of a crescent moon is lowered. It comes almost down to the floor, and Constanze stands behind it as the lovers question each others' fidelity before making up.
In the final act, the scene
with the ladder is great. Belmonte sings of his love, then Pedrillo stops him
so he can serenade the girls with his mandolin. When they finally come to the
window they make a racket escaping. Osmin, in a drunken stupor, wanders in and
discovers the ladder. When he climbs up, they throw a blanket over his head
and wheel him away. The house has been awakened, though, and they're all caught.
When the Pasha finds out that Belmonte's father had wrecked his life, Belmonte
and the others prepare for death. The Pasha finally returns and says he hated
the father so much that he won't follow in his footsteps. He sets them all free,
much to Osmin's chagrin. He won't repay evil with revenge, but rather with forgiveness.
San Francisco Opera doesn't
have the stars this year that it has had in the last several years, but it doesn't
matter. The young talent is tremendous from top to bottom. Michael Eder's Osmin
is a malevolent buffoon. His strong steady bass carries the effect to the extreme,
but it's always smooth, never harsh or sharp, and that's what makes the role
so deliciously funny. The meaness drips from him, but he's not quite sharp enough
to bring any of his schemes off. Jennifer Welch-Babidge is a crafty and flirtatious
Blondchen. She uses all of her wiles along with a bubbly effervescence to carry
off her schemes. She's smart and sassy, and never gives up. Regina Schorg's
Constanze is the exact opposite. She's introspective, melancholy, and resigned
to her fate. There's a strength in her steadfastness that carries her through.
Paul Groves is a steady Belmonte, and Peter Bronder's Pedrillo is the quintessential
servant, whether it's with Belmonte or the Pasha, he's always the servant.
The most sympathetic and intriguing character may be Frank Hoffmann's Pasha. He's passionately in love with Constanze, but she doesn't return it. He rages at it, then realizes that love can't be forced. This recurs a couple times. At the end he has the son of his hated enemy at his absolute mercy. After making all the preparations to kill him, he forgives him and lets him go. This is a complex character who is ruled by passion on the spur of the moment, then has the capacity to step back, and in every case takes the course of compassion. Peter Schneider led the orchestra in this outstanding production of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" at The San Francisco Opera.