Monday, 25 June 2018

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Grange Festival, 24 June 2018


(sung in English, as The Abduction from the Seraglio)

The Grange, Northington

Images: The Grange Festival 2018/Simon Annand
Osmin (Jonathan Lemalu) and Blonde (Daisy Brown)

Pasha Selim – Alexander Andreou
Konstanze – Kiandra Howarth
Blonde – Daisy Brown
Belmonte – Ed Lyon
Pedrillo – Paul Curievici
Osmin – Jonathan Lemalu

John Copley (director)
Tim Reed (designs)
Kevin Treacy (lighting)

Grange Festival Chorus (chorus master: Tom Primrose)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Jean-Luc Tingaud (conductor)

Belmonte (Ed Lyon) and Konstanze (Kiandra Howarth)

Pedrillo (Paul Curievici)
Those for whom opera is primarily a matter of fine singing will have had a treat in this Entführung. In that sense, so did I. The Grange Festival had assembled a cast to grace any stage, a cast that more than lived up to expectations on this, the first night. Kiandra Howarth sang as fine a Konstanze as I have heard, Christine Schäfer included, coloratura clear and meaningful, line finely spun. Humanity breathed into her character was Mozart’s – yet hers too. Daisy Brown’s spirited Blonde offered virtues similar yet far from idential; there was no difficulty in distinguishing the two soprano roles, style and delivery complementary yet distinctive. Much the same might be said of the two tenors, Ed Lyon and Paul Curievici. Lyon’s dignified, yet heartfelt Belmonte and Curievici’s quicksilver Pedrillo offered complementary nobilities, alert to distinctions of social order whilst also suggesting that they – we too – should not be bound by them. And so, in the case of duets and ensembles, indeed of questions and responses, the vocal ingredients were prepared, ready to blend, yet also to retain their individual flavours: which they did. Jonathan Lemalu’s Osmin offered similar virtues from ‘outside’ the charmed European circle, as it were: more contrast, than complement. All handled dialogue well – even it if suffered, as still more did the rest, from a ‘translation’ into English, often very loose indeed, by David Parry: a translation apparently more concerned to draw attention to itself with ‘amusing’ rhymes than to permit the drama to unfold.


Alas, there was little to cheer in the rest. The strange decision to translate – there were English titles – was one thing; more seriously, John Copley’s new (?!) production seemed stuck in a misremembered 1950s. An Entführung, sorry Abduction, for Brexit? There was certainly little in the way of diversity amongst the audience. More bizarrely, it registered not a jot that this is an Orientalist opera concerned with a purported clash between European and Ottoman civilisations; such was neither portrayed nor deconstructed. Nor, however, was anything put in place of that admittedly problematical clash. We saw neither an exploration of what human ‘love’ might or might not mean, as in Stefan Herheim’s exhilarating total reinvention of the work – minus the Pasha – for Salzburg or Calixto Bieito’s Berlin staging, nor any sense of the dark sadomasochism (‘Martern aller Arten…’) both directors and others have explored. I am not sure I could imagine anything less erotic if I tried – and I certainly do not intend to try.

Pasha Selim (Alexander Andreou)

It was as if this were just a terribly unfunny comedy chosen for an end-of-term school play: nothing to scare away the parents, yet nothing to attract them either. The æsthetic, such as it was, seemed very much ‘school play’ – unironically so. It was not so much that Copley had no concept, nor a question of ‘traditionalism’ or otherwise; it was about a fruitless search for drama ending in watching some people in vaguely ‘exotic’ costumes walk around a stage. Even David McVicar’s determinedly anodyne production for Glyndebourne seemed deep by comparison. One at least had the sense that McVicar might, for the sake of ‘entertainment’, have been knowingly evading the issues rather than remaining blissfully unaware of them. This might have been directed by Andrea Leadsom, although not #asamother.



Jean-Luc Tingaud’s conducting proved no more revealing. Mostly hard-driven, with occasional arbitrary slowing (presumably for ‘expression’), it again had one wondering what the fuss might all be about when it came to the operas of Mozart. (My companion, a highly experienced and reflective opera-goer, commented that, had this been her first encounter, it would most likely also have been her last.) On the occasions that the woodwind of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra managed to break a little free, they sounded delectable. Again, however, the drama remained entirely vocal.



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