Cher Public

Mozart at the peepshow

First night in Berlin, since the feared jet lag did not, in fact, do your doyenne in, was spent at the Komische Oper seeing Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the “notorious” Calixto Bieito production. La Cieca’s opinion?  

A very smart if rather scruffy way of presenting a problematic work and in particular addressing some of the (until recently) unquestioned assumptions inherent in the opera, the greatest of which, surprisingly, is not the clash of values between European and Levantine cultures but rather the status of woman as either victim or rescuee in relationship to nefarious or heroic men. It seems to be Bieito’s position that being rescued places a woman in as passive a position as victimization and that, in an emotional sense, there is very little real difference between the two states.

Briefly, the action takes place in the present in a large Western or Westernized city. Built into the proscenium arch are video screens showing slow-motion film of a woman putting on makeup, polishing her nails and otherwise getting dressed up; lower (at stage levels) are picture windows with half-dressed women posed provoctively. The stage proper includes a number of transparent glass booths with retro sexy advertising masking one wall; inside these cubicles at various times sex workers ply their trades. There’s also a transparent stall in which Osmin strips down and showers after having had sex with one of the women during Belmonte’s first solo. He later mocks Belmonte by singing “Das ist des Bassa Selim Haus” while jumping up and down nude on the bed as his partner laughs.

And so it turns out that Selim is a pimp running a sort of sex club/bordello, and he is literally holding Konstanze captive leashed and in a small cage. (He pushes the cage onstage during the Janissary chorus, in this context a rabble of pleasure seekers disco-dancing with kitschy light-up red valentine hearts. The cage is covered by a cloth until Selim casually reveals her there; that’s a shocking moment.)

Pedrillo is a janitor/custodian in the club, cleaning out the cubicles and supplying clean towels, and Blonde is apparently turning tricks.

In order to get Belmonte in past security, Pedrillo dresses him in drag including a sequinned minidress; it’s not immediately clear whether he’s supposed be taken for a real woman or customer of the brothel who’s into crossdressing. Anyway, the two tenors do an admirable and well-rehearsed shared task of Belmonte singing “O wie ängstlich, o wie feurig” while Pedrillo dresses him in thigh-high pleather boots.

I should mention that there are “news ticker” type LED displays in various places around the set that quote lines from the libretto related to torture, specifically Selim’s famous threat of “Martern aller Arten.” In this production, instead of merely alluding to these “tortures of every kind,” Selim offers an object lesson, tying Konstanze to a chair and forcing her to watch as Selim systematically slashes one of the prostitutes to death.

The advantages of this radical approach, it seemed to me, were a) to motivate the ever more hysterical outbursts of coloratura from Konstanze (instead of leaving the high notes and roulades as vocal display) and b) to establish the brutalized quality of Konstanze’s existence as captive, so that when Selim murmurs a few comforting but authoritative words to her after all the bloodshed, she follows him unquestioningly from the stage.

So, a few more bits. Since in this version Osmin is obviously not an observant Muslim, his line about how naughty Pedrillo is to try to get him drunk is played as a gag, and the ensuing drinking song is performed while they play what is the most macho drinking game imaginable: Osmin closes his eyes and shoots at Pedrillo, and each time he misses he has to take a shot. (The game ends with Pedrillo shot in the knee, and he spends the rest of the show limping with a red-stained bandage on his leg.)

The two big point are that the reunion between the four lovers at the end of the ssecond act is extremely tense and confused, with the men alternating between being revolted at the sexual abuse the women have suffered and being attracted to them to the point of trying to force sex upon them. The impression I got was that they finally settled on an uneasy alliance based on mutual self-interest: they all just wanted to escape.

The third act is done as a revenge fantasy a la Tarantino, with Belmonte and Pedrillo shooting up the whole brothel, killing sex workers and customers alike: the bloody bodies litter the stage until the end of the show. Selim manages to capture Belmonte and Konstanze, then leaves them helplessly singing their duet as he retires upstage to towel off and change into a fresh shirt and suit.

He returns in time for the famous “forgiveness” scene, which is subverted when he comes right to the brink of killing the terrified Belmonte, then hands the gun to Konstanze and murmurs, “Ich liebe dich” over and over until she shoots him.

And now, with only the four lovers and the dazed Osmin left alive, they sing in chorus

Wer so viel Huld vergessen kann,
Den seh’ man mit Verachtung an!

… words that take on a sinister and disturbing meaning in this context, i.e., thanking a criminal for letting himself be murdered.

Osmin’s interruption of the jubilation is (I think) carefully played for comedy, with the bass doing stereotypical jumping up and down “rage”… until his last words, when Pedrillo calmly shoots him dead.

And at this point, we get the joyous (gloating?) final verse of the vaudeville:

Nichts ist so häßlich als die Rache;
Hingegen menschlich gütig sein,
Und ohne Eigennutz verzeihn,
Ist nur der großen Seelen Sache!

And then Bieito changes the ending of the opera, though the text still makes perfect sense in context. The partying chorus return, hail Belmonte as their new leader (in other words, the beneficiary of Selim’s criminal empire) and he preens in their praise. On the very final note of the opera, Konstanze shoves a gun in her mouth and fires, unable to face another round of abuse.

There’s a lot more to talk about, but I’ll just say that nothing here struck me as gratuitous and everything was indeed thought out carefully with great respect for the meaning of the text and the music. I’ll have more to say as the discussion develops.

  • Hmm… Very interesting. I’m very glad to have the context for teh famous slashing scene as it relates to “Martern aller Arten”. That makes good sense because the context of that aria is very violent. I’m not so sure about the ending of the opera, however. The joyous music of the end seems to clash with the staging that La Cieca describes, especially Kostanze’s suicide. I’ll be interested in reading more of La Cieca’s thoughts on this matter.

    • armerjacquino

      It’s also the aria which presents the biggest practical problem for a director of this opera. That long orchestral introduction, with all its flashy solos for Mozart’s mates in the band, is wonderful music but at such a dramatic moment makes for very odd theatre.

      Most directors seem to cop out at this point and have Selim and Konstanze sort of awkwardly staring at each other, or striding about for no reason.

      • Agreed. That two-minute sinfonia is great music but a problematic pause in the drama. At Opera Atelier, we have dance in all of our productions. So, during this intro, we had dancers dancing around Kostanze, intimidating her with weapons of torture.

    • ianw2

      What I love about Bieito is that Good Bieito makes it impossible to look at these ‘warhorses’ the same way again. I only saw the video, but his Don G was such a shock to my system I find it impossible to look at the work as I did in my idyllic pre-Bieito days. Whilst I still enjoy it in a more traditional mode, I can’t shake the lingering Bieito influence that this is a miserable, abusive story.

      If only his work made it over this side of the Atlantic every now and again? But who on earth would present it? God, even Bondy was condemned as Eurotrash.

      • Alto

        But this sounds far more thoughtful than the slap-dash effort of Bondi at the Met.

        • ianw2

          Yeah, maybe not the best example. But still, ‘eurotrash’ is the default insult for any production in the US which causes the pearls to be clutched.

    • About the ending, I haven’t seen this production but Bieito often uses joyous or triumphant music to alienating or ironic effect, pointing out the brutality and inhumanity of what is being celebrated. Something similar happened in the Triumphal March of his Aida. It’s an accusatory gesture that can be very disconcerting and effective.

      Thanks a lot for this review, Cieca!!!

      • I think it depends on the situation. Tim Alberry’s Aida in Toronto turned the Triumphal March into Aida’s nightmare and it worked very well. THat overbearingly heroic display, seen from Aida’s perspective, is nothing short of a nightmare. But as I recall it, at the end of Entführung, everyone but Osmin is singing about how happy they are. I haven’t read the libretto to see what each individual character is saying so I’m happy to be corrected. It seems very strange for Kostanze to sing joyously and then shoot herself.

        • La Cieca, once you are back online can you fill us in on how this worked? I could easily see her stage action contradicting her words, but I obviously can’t say for sure.

          • Well, the point is that the characters (in this production, I mean) are feeling triumphant and very full of themselves, smugly pronouncing moral judgment on Selim the way winners so often do. Konstanze seems to buy into this contrived “happy ending” at least until the Janissary chorus breaks in again and Belmonte in his John Travolta ice cream suit starts pimping out Blonde. The return of the “Turkish” music is a surprise in any production of the opera; here Bieito amplifies this surprise into a shock with the dramatic twist that Belmonte has turned into his worst enemy. What I got from this was that Konstanze suddenly was jolted into the realization that she was as morally reprehensible as everyone else for celebrating the slaughter of Selim and his posse.

            What can I tell you? It made great sense in context, and there was nothing that felt applique or arbitrary about it. “Random,” maybe, but hardly pointless.

          • Thanks for the explanation! That makes perfect sense. I really want to see this production; it sounds brilliant.

  • opera-cake

    Too, too busy here! Will read carefully tonite.

    Only one comment LaC. All what you saw on the stage looks very much like the Red Light district in Amsterdam. That’s the main reference, but of course can be applied to any Western city…

    Cheers and I hope you’re having fun!

  • Gualtier M

    OT: What Mr. Koch’s tea party cohorts would think of this catering to the cursed deviates among us is beyond me….

    Bottoms Up at NYCO! (You know who you are…)
    Media Alert:

    March 17, 2011

    Bottoms Up!

    LGBT Night at The Elixir of Love

    Intermission and Post-Show Festivities, Friday, April 1

    WHAT: Put some Elixir in your mixer at this fabulous evening of libations and incredible entertainment. Following the performance of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, join your fellow opera queens for a performance by Juilliard-trained singer and drag diva Shequida, who will show off her multi-octave range on opera selections and pop hits. Guests are invited for drinks during intermission and will be treated to Shequida’s performance post-opera.

    WHEN:Friday, April 1, performance begins at 8:00 pm

    WHERE: David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center (63rd Street and Columbus Ave )

    TICKETS: Tickets for the event are $75 and include a discounted orchestra ticket to the opera, plus admission to the post-show party with free cocktails.

    Tickets can be purchased in-person at the David H. Koch Theater Box Office, online at, or through CenterCharge at 212.721.6500. Use promotion code LOVEBN11 to purchase tickets.

    About The Elixir of Love

    Vibrant young singers shine in this witty production of Donizetti’s immortal bel canto classic. A poor, lovelorn young man in love with a beautiful, rich woman drinks a magic potion provided by a traveling quack salesman in hopes of winning her over. Jonathan Miller’s stylish production inventively relocates the story to the fifties of the American Southwest, complete with soda jerks, a vintage Ford convertible and a dusty roadside diner. Donizetti’s greatest melodies – including “Una furtiva lagrima” – sparkle fresher than ever in this updated setting. Soprano Stefania Dovhan, who made her City Opera debut in last season’s Don Giovanni, returns to portray the clever Adina while fast-rising tenor David Lomeli makes his New York operatic debut as the shy Nemorino.

    The full cast includes David Lomeli (Nemorino), José Adán Pérez (Belcore), Stefania Dovhan (Adina), Marco Nisticò (Dulcamara), and Meredith Lustig (Giannetta), with Brad Cohen (conductor), and a production team including A. Scott Parry (stage director), Jonathan Miller (production), Isabella Bywater (set and costume designer), and Jeff Harris (lighting designer).

    • Alto

      But isn’t David Koch on record as a supporter of gay rights? So why should he be outraged by this?

      No one is all bad.

      • ilpenedelmiocor

        Tell it to Wisconsin.
        Then re-read the review.

        • Alto

          Have I missed something about the Wisconsin affair? How are gay rights involved? I detest much of what Koch does, but he’s not anti-gay evidently.

  • One of the problems I had with Christoph Loy’s toned down, black-and-white production was that it did belie the buoyant music that Mozart presents us in Die Entfuehring. This production, however, doesn’t seem to take anything away from the bouncy, almost clownish music that Mozart composed. If anything, it seems to underscore the effervescence inherent in the score with switched-on wild sexual abandon. The ending, as described, seems “joyous,” at least to the majority of players on the stage. Ironically, Bieito seems able to show us a very happy world indeed, albeit, if you have the power and control over your own fate.

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    Whoa, radical feminism is back baby! And while my first instinct was to call the production retro that’s not fair. Honestly, since the end of Buffy/Veronica Mars when was the last time popular culture delivered a feminist critique of “rescue” imagery. And only rarely did either of those laudable programs delve into the unspoken violence of rescue imagery within most Western lit/movies. Think about it, sure Prince Valiant’s all gallant and honorable and all that, but how much of that honor is really about shoring up his own ego with some version of “women don’t get treated like that in my town bub” rhetoric. That kind of proprietary logic, with an emphasis on conquest, can easily turn into proprietary feelings towards a woman’s mind and body and abuse often follows. Which is why its essential that Bieito force the audience to watch the “rescuers” sexually violate their charges. It speaks to the way in which after the violent confrontation with the previous “owner” of the fallen woman, men often continue to envision her as sullied and impure. Popular phrases like “captain save-a-ho” function as a critique of men who haven’t learned that “once a ho, always a ho” or “you can’t turn a whore into a housewife” or my favorite,

    It seems Pedrillo and Belmonte have more in common with Project Pat and Three 6 Mafia than any of us would have suspected.

    Two issues. I think Bieito (or La Cieca’s characterization of what the production does) draws an unnecessary distinction between the opera’s themes around racial/cultural difference and a discussion of rescue imagery. When we think about neo-conservative arguments in support of the “Global War on Terror” they always deploy images of Afghani women in Burkas or talk about honor killings, images of innocent femininity that needs to be rescued by western men. Ideas around the purported abuse of women have always animated Western imperial projects. Rescue is, by necessity, a way of white washing violence and domination. And you don’t even need to look at the war on terror to see consequences of this kind of thinking, just check out the past decade in France and the controversies over Muslim women and headscarves. The “unmasking” is characterized as a kind of feminist liberation moment, where French-ness rescues these poor women from oppression, but of course it is in reality an act of violent conquest over the bodies of a minority “other.”

    Second issue. It is a shame that Bieito suggests that a woman’s only way out of this cycle of abuse is acceptance or suicide. I mean this *is* a post-Buffy/Kill Bill/Nikita world right? Not sure why Kostanze can’t have an “I choose me” moment, grab a gun, bust a few caps and head off to get some much needed therapy.

    All in all though, the review was a fascinating read and I can’t wait to see what comes next on the tour! And tut, tut, La Cieca no screen caps of our nude Osmin? You’re slipping.

    • No screen cap but a video of Selim jumping up and down in all his nakedness.

      • ianw2

        I admire any performer who is prepared to do something so unflattering for the sake of the show. So good for you, mysterious German Selim!

        • armerjacquino

          Osmin, boys, Osmin.

      • armerjacquino

        They’ve put that video together really well, but whoever edited it is no music lover…

    • I love how you have discovered The Ladies recently, ON. But what I think La Cieca means is that the music of this opera draws explicitly portrays cultural difference, in a problematic way. The Turkish characters are given simple jingly music to indicate that they are the dumb Other. I think the way Bieito takes apart or just refuses to stage these operatic clichés in favor of the more universal narratives you describe is one of the best things about his work.

      • whoops, I can’t proofread. take out the “draws.” Also, on the suicide thing, I agree, but Bieito’s stage worlds are usually such horrific places that it usually seems like the best option. And I think he likes the drama of killing off a major heroic character in the final moments. Amneris didn’t survive Aida either (and she did become a hero in the final scene), nor did Florestan Fidelio (depending on how you read that ending, I’m still trying to parse it).

        • ianw2

          One of my criticisms of Bieito (and I’m by no means an expert on him, so take this for what its worth) is that he seems incapable of ending an opera with anything other than gory death. Granted, this has strong precedent in the bulk of the repertoire, but it does also strike me as somewhat self-limiting (though he often does it well- vis a vis the Don G I mentioned earlier).

          Give me a convincing Traviata where Violetta just walks out of the room!

          • I just saw a Traviata that ended with Violetta slowly walking upstage, alone, as the lights dimmed. It was heartbreaking. Peter Konwitschny production, in Graz.

            I’m not a Bieito expert either (though I’ve seen three of his productions in the last year or two so they are fairly fresh in my mind), but I think that’s a fair criticism. The only possible ending for a positive character seems to be deciding the world is too crappy to be worth living in anymore so screw it, I’m either kill myself or get killed. The Fidelio was fascinating but the least coherent of the bunch, and the ending was the most confusing part. But I really liked Amneris’s Last Stand; she heroically tries to save Radames and Aida and gets shot by the Patriarchy.

      • parpignol

        somewhat disagree about the jingly music and the dumb Other: the Turkish music is something that Mozart (and other 18th-century composers, including Haydn and Gluck) sometimes used in imitation of actual Turkish Janissary bands that were present in Europe in the 18th century (you can get a feel for this music in the Military Museum in Istanbul); Mozart was musically interested in the so-called Janissary rhythms and percussion, and while he does use it to distinguish especially the Turkish chorus, the dramatic portrait of Pasha Selim is actually quite flattering in the end; he turns out to be nobler than his European counterparts; and Osmin, while a nasty piece of work, is not entirely “other” but clearly modeled on the petty European court officials whom Mozart knew very well; and even Osmin is humanized in the drinking duet with Pedrillo. . . too simple to see the Abduction as simply disparaging of Turkishness; Mozart is always up to something more complicated. . .

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        I’m troubled by the notion that certain themes in this work are “universal truths” and other themes are somehow both too obvious and to big of a distraction from universal themses to bear mention. I don’t think all works have to be all things (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t levy criticisms) but the chosen theme for the production--the impossibility of rescue--and the ugly ethnocentrism of the plot scream to engage each other.

    • The way I see it, Bieito is not singling out Konstanze as a woman but rather as a human being with a somewhat more developed moral sense than those surrounding her, the macho Belmonte and Pedrillo and any-way-the-wind-blows Blonde. The situation, i.e., Belmonte’s transitioning into the role of “Bassa Selim,” is insupportable: by doing nothing, she is endorsing the continued exploitation of women; by killing Belmonte, she is continuing to follow the male example of answering violence with violence; and, as she has just sung in the finale, “unselfish forgiveness is only for the greatest of souls.” She is not a great soul; that possibility has been stolen from her by those who have brutalized her. So her only option is to remove herself from the situation; and the only way out is through death.

      Or, alternatively, the case can be made that Bieito is saying that rescue is impossible: though the victim may be removed from the immediate source of danger, she may be so damaged that she can never really be “out of danger,” since that “danger” has become internalized. Since Konstanze can never be whole, she chooses not to be.

      Yet a third idea is that after the bloodbath in the third act (and I didn’t mention yet the bodyguard Pedrillo slowly strangles while singing his serenade), Bieito wants to resensitize the audience to violence by offering a death that at least on first glance seems utterly gratuitous; the trope evoked is Anyone Can Die, and, like the fate of Marion Crane, Konstanze’s suicide is a powerful reminder that reality is indifferent to providing the comforts usually found in art.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        The situation, i.e., Belmonte’s transitioning into the role of “Bassa Selim,” is insupportable: by doing nothing, she is endorsing the continued exploitation of women; by killing Belmonte, she is continuing to follow the male example of answering violence with violence; and, as she has just sung in the finale, “unselfish forgiveness is only for the greatest of souls.” She is not a great soul; that possibility has been stolen from her by those who have brutalized her. So her only option is to remove herself from the situation; and the only way out is through death.

        While I enjoyed the imagery of Kostanze “busting a few caps” my vision of an exit for her that avoids these situations would be for her to brandish the gun, maybe get someone in the knee caps, back her way out and flee. However, I admit that doing so would offer a too-neat redemptive ending that would undercut what I agree is an important lesson: “reality is indifferent to providing the comforts usually found in art.”

        That said, I get that Bieito doesn’t single out Kostanze as a woman and he maybe even doesn’t want us to understand her as representative of rescued, fallen women. But, I think this is an area where I have less of an appreciation for European semiotics, I don’t buy the post-identity thing. I think its a bit of a false-consciousness moment. Especially when tensions between sex and ownership are propelling the plot forward.

  • But how was the SINGING? It is an Opera after all.

    • Well, I don’t think La Cieca promised us full reviews. This is her regie tour after all, and she’s focusing on the stagings. I’m fine with that.

    • The singing was mostly on a solidly professional level, the kind of thing you would expect generally to get at New York City Opera (though not on a level with NYCO on a great night). The Konstanze had all the notes and very clean coloratura despite more of a Blonde size voice, and Blonde herself sported a terrific high E, and sang it while Osmin was trying to tear off her bra besides. Belmonte was pretty much a mess, but that’s hardly unique to this production. The Pedrillo (who created the role in this production back in 2004 when he was a 23 year old beginner with the company) was terrific: great German, lots of character, very concentrated on stage, and a big, ringing voice. (This season at Komische Opera he’s also doing David in a new Meistersinger, alternating Fourth Jew and Narraboth in a new Salome, plus revivals of Vetter aus Dingsda, Kiss Me Kate and about eight other shows.

      The actor who played Selim was pretty spectacular too; he ended by being the most important character after Konstanze.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Yes, “systematic” slashing is always better than random flailing.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      The whole thing sounds utterly repulsive to me. Sorry. But thanks for the detailed description.

      I also wonder why the female victim must choose death over continued dishonor. That’s a Victorian concept if ever there was one. As noted up thread, the true feminist response would be to shoot her way out of the place and go live a happy life elsewhere.

      Yes, and after all this, how was the singing?

      • I think the most feminist solution is to let her do what she wants and then not judge her about whether it is appropriate womanly behavior or not.

        • DonCarloFanatic

          Even better. But I did not like the echoes of the “you got raped, so you must kill yourself” credo of not that many decades ago.

          • DonCarloFanatic

            Actually, what bothers me is the idea that Kostanze is permanently damaged. Marked, perhaps, but unfit to make a future for herself? Ask some nuns about that.

        • CruzSF

          Thank you

          • CruzSF

            I meant “Thank you, U Zerb”

  • Constantine A. Papas

    It appears that bordello scenes are taking center stage in opera productions lately, like La Scala’s Cav. What is next? Showing Violetta, during the opening prelude, working in a Latin quarters cathouse and having sex with the Baron. Then they leave the bordello together after the Baron made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: 100 Luis each time they have sex, an apartment in Paris, and four credit cards with no limits- Channel, Diors, Lius Viton, and Hermes! Am I losing it, or what?

  • Edward George

    Yes, but how was the conductor?

    • Henry Holland

      La Cieca, your impressions of the Komische viz as an opera house (sightlines, acoustics)?

  • CwbyLA

    can somebody explain to me how in the world La Cieca can fly to Berlin, immediately see an opera, make such detailed observations and write such an intelligent review? I admire her talent. When I fly to Europe, it takes me a week to recover from the jet lag! Brava.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Like Domingo -- if La Cieca rests she rusts.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      That is the passion of La Cieca.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Actually, our Doyenne’s secret is that she ONLY flies first class (as any self-respecting queen should). Therefore, after an overnight flight in her lie-flat sleeper seat, LaC arrived at Tegel airport in fabulously refreshed condition, ready to take Berlin by storm!! :D

      • Having spent all day getting from California to Arizona (being driven with all the other cattle by the TSA and the “efficient” Southwest Airlines), I am terribly envious.

    • Henry Holland

      Melatonin pills are an international traveler’s best friend. Well, OK, free booze on the plane is, but still. It’s simple: you take a 3mg pill 3 days before you leave at the time you usually go to bed, adjusted for time zone. I go to bed at midnight, I was going to Germany (+ 9 hours), so I took it at 3 pm Los Angeles time. Do this for the next 2 days + the travel day and then reverse it when you arrive, taking it for 3 days at 9:00 am. Repeat, with the proper adjustments, for the return.

      This was recommended to me back in the late 80’s, I’ve been to Europe a dozen or so times and it’s never failed me.


    • manou

      La Cieca flew to Berlin, fell asleep and dreamt</b the entire production.

  • chevalierdupin

    I very much appreciate some of the details of this review. I have several friends and colleagues who have witnessed this very production and all were fairly scandalized by it, particularly the part of Osmin. It had also been reported to me at one time that he urinates on the stage (or perhaps into some receptacle).

    What seems to stand out most to me and least clear is the reason for Selim’s murder? I do not recall ever having seen a single production in which this occurs nor can I think of any moment in the libretto that would sanction such an interpretation. I understand what La Cieca has suggested regarding the cyclic aspect of the world for these characters created/demonstrated by Bieito, but the suggestion that the final Janissary music is a surprise in any production I cannot agree with.

    Selim has shown great magnanimity following the duet, in an effort to place himself above the barbarous ways of his European nemesis…that is cause for a celebration (to all but Osmin) and not grounds for killing him off and usurping his position in the given red-light district. It seems to me that this is a superfluous addition to the opera that, at least on paper, should not work. As I have not seen the production I cannot say if I feel that it does or doesn’t, but the presence of that music for the finale is not surprising or misplaced at all in the original context.

    I also wonder if the Belmonte sang all 4 arias, as he should. Any tenor can sing the first three, but the last is the true test of his voice in that role.

    • Osmin urinates in a glass and hands it to Blonde to drink. This happens at the end of “Durch Zaertlichkeit” during with neither of them does anything that could be called by the wildest stretch of the imagination “Zaertlichkeit.” Essentially, she roughs up Osmin throughout, then at the finish, he punches her and then prepares to humiliate her by forcing her to drink the urine. (The revolve takes her offstage before we see that happening.)

      I think a urination scene is also included among the violent sex acts simulated in the cubicles during Osmin’s “Ha wie will ich triumphieren.” The connection here was a little more tenuous, but what I got was that Osmin’s revenge fantasy included imagining all this rough nonconsensual sex going on all around him.

      The spoken dialogue is rewritten somewhat in this production, most significantly in the final scene. The bit about Belmonte’s father being Selim’s worst enemy and therefore a motivation for Selim’s magnanimity is cut. What remains is his sudden change of mind, and it’s up to the audience to decide why he does what he does, choosing death instead of killing Belmonte and Konstanze. It’s possible to see this as a magnanimous act, i.e., he feels pity for Konstanze and sees that his own death is her only chance. (Of course, it turns out soon enough that he’s wrong about that, but he doesn’t know it at the time.)

      I found the reworking of the character of Selim one of the most interesting parts of the production, because he is presented at first as a sheer monster and then he gradually grows more complex. By the end of the opera he has even earned some pathos; we can see (even if we don’t condone) that what he has done was for what he thought was love.

      The most important reason for this change of ending is that the original, though appropriate for an audience of the period, is clearly artificial, a deux ex machina. Bieito’s way of winding up the story is more disturbing and ambiguous on the one hand and on the other amounts to a critique of the social smindset that went into creating Entfuehrung in the first place. (I admire the idea that if a recreative artist disagrees with the morality of a work, instead of refusing to perform it, he makes his production in part a critique of the questionable elements of the work.)

      • Bieito’s way of winding up the story is more disturbing and ambiguous on the one hand and on the other amounts to a critique of the social smindset that went into creating Entfuehrung in the first place. (I admire the idea that if a recreative artist disagrees with the morality of a work, instead of refusing to perform it, he makes his production in part a critique of the questionable elements of the work.)

        I find this utterly fascinating and amazing: making art by replacing barbaric ideas from the 18th century with relevant but equally barbaric ideas of the 21st century to point out just how barbaric it all was in the first place. I don’t mean any deference but simply want to try and grasp all that Bieito is putting out there! It just makes what Mozart was able to create even more of a wonder (for me), and, as I understand it, the music simply underscores all of this but is not diminished by the director’s intentions. It also makes me wonder at just how far apart are we from what is going on in Europe, especially when those of us who only have regional US opera are just happy to get ANY kind of production of this “sublime” work. MORE, please, and thank you for this important discussion.

        • oedipe

          Louannd, you have a very good point when you say that in art (and not only there) barbaric ideas of the 18th century are being replaced with barbaric ideas of the 21st century. But let me add -in all seriousness- that in the 16th to 18th century they were having much more fun, because they believed in something, at least in the relevance of what they were doing.

      • chevalierdupin

        And there solves the mystery! Thank you, LC. I suspected as much that it was a rewrite to fit his purpose, which, because it is spoken dialogue, is a practice employed frequently during those epochs. It seems that Bieito was quite well thought-out in his approach to this opera. I don’t know if it is quite to my liking, but I can respect what he does. One need also remember that Mozart was quite the pervert himself and an avid scatological prankster…those letters to his cousin about their unclean fantasies with each other are quite scandalizing to begin with, so it seems that perhaps Bieito was also playing on some of those kinds of subversive elements in Mozart’s own psyche.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I don’t think I could piss while singing “wie will ich triumphieren”.

        • A. Poggia Turra

          Quanto -- for anyone afflicted with “slow flow” when urinating, a successful ‘event’ might well inspire a round or two of Osmin’s song :D

      • papopera

        Hope poor dear Cieca did not upchuck her Frühstück watching that Scheisse.

      • manou

        So that is what’s meant by “taking the p***”…. except apparently Blonde does not take it. Why not, as all the cast have seemingly gone along with everything else in this production?

        • No Expert

          Just not her cup of tea.

          • CruzSF


  • ivantt

    Except for the “title”, Mozart is not mentioned once in the review.
    Guess he is not important!!!
    Shame, La Cieca, shame!!!!!!

  • Lucky Pierre

    OT: i was at the met’s boris godunov tonight. does anyone know who finished for pape? (since it was mid-act, there was no announcement made.) spasiba.

    • papopera

      what happened at the Met exactly ?

    • DurfortDM

      Nikitin. He was wearing his black Rangoni outfit under the robe and then the same outfit under the “Tsar’s Mantle” for the curtain call. He has it in his repertory so it would make sense. He wasn’t horrible but honestly I preferred Pape, cold and all.

      • Lucky Pierre

        that was him? really? i didn’t recognize him at all.

        papora, there was an announcement made before the prologue that pape was ill but would still sing. he sang acts 1 and 2, and sounded actually quite good. he came back for scene 1 of act 4, when boris gives out bread to the poor outside the cathedral. then in the next scene, at the duma, boris comes out for the mad/death scene, and it’s someone else, equally tall and …ahem… strapping, which made many in the audience miss the switcheroo. i knew it wasn’t pape and it didn’t sound like him, but i didn’t recognize him as the guy who sang rangoni.

        for me, the highlight was act 3. semenchuk and antonenkos were just sizzling, with lots of help from nikitin. semenchuk has a very rich, dark and thick slavic sound and sang gorgeously (and looked great too), but i wonder if she can lighten it up for carmen (which she seems to sing a lot). antonenkos’s voice is just HUGE, ringing and exciting. is there a reason he doesn’t sing strauss and wagner? nikitin in his jesuit garb looked really sexy… the whole production is actually very beautiful, and the music is just gorgeous.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Considerable thanks, La Cieca, for this brilliantly written and described review. I was, so to speak, spellbound by the way you detailed how Bieto’s interpretation was played out; I really want to see this. Any idea if it is to be captured on video, and with any hope, a DVD release?

    It sounds to me like Bieto looked deep into the situational aspects of the plot and displayed an imaginative “alternative” take on the piece.


  • La marquise de Merteuil

    Playing devil’s advocate, but how would people here feel if someone took the Mona Lisa and painted a dildo in her hand or had figures defecating in the background. How would we approach this re-interpretation of an old work of art?

    • The comparison between a fixed work like a painting and a performative work like the score and libretto of an opera is difficult. The Mona Lisa is unique and any change made to it in paint would be permanent; the score of Entfuehrung is not permanently damaged by even a poor performance or (as happened as recently as half a century ago) a performance that changed the order of the numbers in order to give “Martern aller Arten” a flashier place in the third act.

      There is also the point that the Mona Lisa is “complete” in the sense that for the experience to be whole all that is required is an onlooker. An opera needs to be produced before it exists; without production, an “opera” amounts to a recipe or a set of blueprints, an indication of how to make the thing rather than the thing itself.

      The question should be, what if someone painted a reproduction of the Mona Lisa with a dildo in her hand, or what if someone decided to display the Mona Lisa temporarily with an overlaid slide projection that created the effect of figures defecating in the background. My answer would be, the worst thing that could happen would be pointless bad art for a short time, and the best thing that could happen would be a reappraisal of what makes the Mona Lisa great (or not great) in the first place.

      An argument could be made that if the Bieito production were the only available way to experience Entfuehrung, the public would have only a “distorted” version of the work handy. But in fact the opera is produced dozens of times each year, and the interested audience member also has a wealth of audio and video documents easily available.

      A further point, and this one is perhaps more arguable, is that no one take on a great work can encompass all the meaning of that work. Given that many productions of Entfuehrung emphasize the piece’s “charming rococo” qualities, it is necessary to offer a strongly contrasting take on the work in order to complete the picture.

      • La marquise de Merteuil

        LC, you are as always most persuasive and THOROUGH in your argument. I’m a traditionalist, HOWEVER, there have been 100’s of period DE’s and a rethinking, even if radical and discomforting, is valid. I have a sneaking suspicion that bearing Wolfie’s scatological interests in mind this production would have met with his approval.

        Look forward to your other reviews!

      • manou



        • manou


      • Agree completely with these thoughts, especially the last two paragraphs. Sometimes, people criticise a production as if that production has been presented as the only interpretation of the work. No staging can be the final word on any opera. Everytime it is reinterpreted, the work has the potential to tell us something new.

        • Henry Holland

          Sometimes, people criticise a production as if that production has been presented as the only interpretation of the work

          For new or rarely done works, that’s a problem. If an opera, for whatever reason, is only done once every 10 years, a crappy unsympathetic production can hurt its chances of getting done, say, every 8 or 9 years. Of course, the opposite is true, a great production of a rare/new work can help that opera make its way in the cold, cruel world of opera.

    • iltenoredigrazia

      LC would most likely approve on principle. After all, who wants to see the same old thing again?

  • A. Poggia Turra

    LaC, after your return, and also after you have seen Stefan Herheim’s work first-hand in Oslo, I wonder if you could compare the deconstructive aspects of Bieito’s Entführung aus dem Serail to the even more radical re-think Herheim did in Salzburg in 2003-2006? (although it’s a shame that the 2006 DVD did not have 2003’s Jonas (sigh) and Damrau).

    • Feldmarschallin

      in 2003 Damrau was still singing Blondchen I believe. At some point the Konstanze got sick and she then sang Konstanze but I think this was in a later season. I did hear a broadcast with both Kaufmann and Damrau from that initial season so at least the audio is floating around somewhere and perhaps the ORF will one day release it. It does have that Martinez as Konstanze who was the weak link in the cast.

      • A. Poggia Turra

        Yes, Martinez, but Iride Martinez (Costa Rican), not Ana Maria (not sure of her nationality). Peter Rose was the Osmin in 2003 (instead of Halwata).

        Herheim was forced by the Salzburg honchos to remove the elderly soft-shoe dancers made up in in blackface from Act One -- I always wondered what their significance was.

        • MontyNostry

          I think A-M Martinez is of Puerto Rican stock. I haven’t heard her live, but her sound seems to be really rather gorgeous — a bit Renee-ish, without the scoops etc, and with a bit more fibre.

    • Regina delle fate

      Both Kaufmann and Damrau are Regie-friendly artists, yet both have gone on record to say that they found the Salzburg Entfuhrung less than rewarding. It may, of course, have been the fact that the audience protests during the first run disrupted the performance and the concentration to such an extent that, on one night, Jonas pleased with the audience to save their disapproval until the end of the interval or the show. Herheim made quite a few changes during the four year run.I haven’t seen the DVD but I hope having the interval break in the middle of Pedrillo’s Frisch zum Kampfe was one of them. The hotels in Salzburg couldn’t give tickets away for it, and for a change those who bought tickets at box-office prices hoping to make black-market killings made a loss as they had to discount.

  • havfruen

    OT, Denmark declares war on England by dumping Kasper Holten on the Royal Opera House. Everything has been going down hill opera-wise in Copenhagen since the unfortunate tenure of his predecessor(both in Copenhagen and in London),Elaine Padmore. Hopefully Holten’s exit will inspire a revival in Copenhagen and not do too much damage in London.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      havfruen -- I thought that Mr. Holten was leaving voluntarily to teach at a Copenhagen university? Also, isn’t his mother a bigwig at the Danish National bank>?

      I did see, and enjoy his centenaryproduction of Nielsen’s Maskerade in November 2006.

      • havfruen

        I’m glad you enjoyed Maskarade, it is a lovely opera.

        However the production you saw, intentionally (I was present at a LONG interview with the director) decided that the opera wasn’t “about” class difference (which clearly Holberg and Nielsen were trying to convey -- we have their own words about it) but a generational conflict. Holberg an Nielsen did it so artfully that it remains a beloved comedy that has been revived in many guises over the years. I’m not sure the centenary production did that aspect justice. I didn’t see it, so I can’t comment.
        Holten seems to be part of the “beautiful people” in Copenhagen society. We’ll see how he does when he gets to a bigger pond.

      • pernille

        I don’t care for Mr. Holten either. Not because of what he did to Pernille in Maskerade ( I’m understandably sensitive to that) but because of the following incident which I remember all to well. Watch out London Zoo!!!!

        ( from Bloomberg via Wiki)

        Quote from Holten:“The best thing that ever happened to the Royal Danish Opera in terms of fame was when we killed that animal with our outdoor function,” he says.

        In summer of 1999, rehearsals for an outdoor performance of extracts from Wagner’s “Lohengrin” had grave consequences. The performance venue was adjacent to the Copenhagen zoo, and the music caused a rare African opaki, a mammal related to the giraffe, to die of shock.

  • CruzSF

    Thanks, La C, for the detailed description and the ensuing discussions. The production sounds interesting and personal. Die E was recently produced here and used a stage-on-the-stage concept (early 19th/late 18th century style, I think) that I found distancing. It was my first exposure to this opera and left me feeling that it was all a game, with periodic reversals of fortune dictated mostly by operatic tradition.

    I don’t know that I would want the Bieto as my first encounter with Die E, but as a 2nd or 3rd, I’m intrigued.

  • Camille

    Entartete Kunts.

  • floridante2k

    When is CB going to stop putting his clinical notes of his psychotherapy sessions on operatic stage!? TMI for most opera goers …

    • MontyNostry

      My feeling is that Bieito is pretty disingenuous and that he knows exactly what he’s doing when he’s coming to being scandalous and attention-grabbing. I saw him talk at a conference a couple of years ago and he spoke in his gentle little voice, doing the charming latin ‘soft around the eyes’ thing, claiming he had no idea what all the fuss was about.

      As if!

      • floridante2k

        I am sure CB is J**king off thinking about his own production … What a creep… I just don’t care much about direction like this … So much self indulgence and so neurotic …
        There is no authenticity and honesty in this, only neurotic subjective mental trifles and he know the public will eat it up.

        • OpinionatedNeophyte

          and Otto Schenk does what to prepare his productions? Sits at home praying at a self-made Wagner shrine, wearing some kind of Nuns on the Run-Wagner Style-habit?

        • So, as i understand it, the director likes what he’s doing and hte public like what he’s doing, but you, who do not see the productions, decide you wouldn’t like them if you ever bothered to find out. So, the obvious question, then, is: why should anyone care what you think?