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Project runway

Some ideas are so absurd that the only way to describe them is to simply use the liner notes: “On 26 August 2013, Hangar-7 of Salzburg Airport was transformed into a vibrant cultural venue for a special live broadcast of Mozart’s Enführung aus dem Serail in a coproduction for television with ServusTV. Amidst the historic collection of Flying Bulls aerobatic aircraft and Formula One racing cars, and making full use of the area set aside for art exhibitions, the Ikarus Restaurant, the Outdoor Lounge bars and cafe, Hangar-7 was turned into an opera stage for the evening.”   

The concept of director Adrian Marthaler for this DVD: It’s fashion week at the airport. The Turkish harem is really a fashion show. Hoardes of people are standing around I guess waiting to see the latest designer creations.  Konstanze is a supermodel, Blonde a makeup artist at the fashion show. Selim Pasha is a fashion designer. Osmin is his assistant. Belmonte is … I don’t know who the hell he is. Some guy who bought a ticket to fashion week?

But the concept is rather inconsistently applied, as Konstanze isn’t wearing the kind of haute couture supermodels would be wearing if she were really going to do a run down a catwalk. Instead she’s wearing ball gowns that opera singers might don if they were to sing at the Richard Tucker Gala. Also, why are Konstanze and Blonde so trapped if they’re in an airport? Can’t they run to a terminal and book a flight? Of course all’s well that ends well and the production ended with—you guessed it—a catwalk.

Mozart’s opera is about men who feel sexually proprietary about their women. In this production  Pasha Selim and Osmin are both directed to be stereotypically gay fashion mavens. From what I know about fashion designers they do feel very proprietary about their female models and their actresses but those feelings are not sexual.

Without the element of sexual suspense (will Konstanze and Blonde succumb to pressure and let Osmin and Selim have their way with them?) the opera loses much of its dark sinister edge. It also makes nonsense of a lot of the text. Maybe that’s why so much of the dialogue is trimmed. But still, you have to wonder why Konstanze is singing of such desperate feelings when she’s walking down a catwalk.

This concept might have worked better if Hangar-7 was transformed into a movie set and Osmin and Selim were movie directors. Konstanze and Blonde could be victims of the infamous Hollywood casting couch.

Some musical choices are questionable. The dialogue is snipped to almost nothing—30 seconds here, 30 seconds there, giving this production even more of a concert opera feel. It was apparently decided that the singers should wear stadium-style face earpieces and mikes. Hans Graf is occasionally seen leading the orchestra in another part of the airport but the sound balance is poor. The whole concept feels rather gimmicky and half-baked.

The cast is very uneven. Javier Camarena (Belmonte) brings his usual attributes to the role: sweet timbre, stylish singing. He might not be entirely comfortable with the German language, because his dialogue is snipped even more than the other roles. Also, the “acting” doesn’t call for him to do much but walk around aimlessly around the airport in a tux. His singing of “Wenn der Freude” while walking up the aisle of a jet might be the most “effects without causes” thing I’ve ever seen in any production, ever.

Kurt Rydl (Osmin) is quite frankly awful—wobbly and weak-toned. His voice projects absolutely no authority or menace. Tobias Moretti in the speaking role of the Pasha has his part trimmed to almost nothing, so what can he do but camp it up like a flaming fashion designer?

If the director wanted to go with the Konzept that Konstanze wants to torture her captors into releasing her than they picked the right soprano. Desiree Rancatore screams, and then she screams some more. “Martern aller Arten” sounds like a Susan Alexander Kane B-side. If she were a great actress maybe her vocal shrillness and obvious discomfort with the high notes would be less of a problem but she doesn’t do much besides pout and sulk. She looks pretty, so there’s that.

Much more simpatico is Rebecca Nelsen as Blonde and Thomas Ebenstein as Pedrillo. Very charming voices, and cute acting too.  The Act 2 quartet is notable for the contrast between K/B and B/P. Rancatore and Camarena act like strangers, Nelsen and Ebenstein as lovers.

This obviously was designed to be a big Event, as big as well, fashion week. Maybe it was exciting to watch on TV. Who knows. Musically and dramatically this Abduction belongs in the dustbin.

14 comments

  • Cicciabella says:

    I remember seeing this on TV. It’s one of those logistically brave live opera projects that you have to admire, like the Rigoletto from Mantova with Domingo and Grigolo. Camarena was the best thing in it. In all fairness to Rancatore, I believe she was a last-minute replacement for Damrau, but she was in less than splendid voice that night. The fashion show concept fell rather flat. Tobias Moretti as the Pasha went on and on during the live broadcast; they must have cut his dialogue on the DVD. He was a sort of Svengali figure obsessed with Konstanze. Not to rake the coals again, but one of the reasons the fashion week concept did not work was because the Pasha, while surrounded by droves of insanely beautiful models, is driven crazy by a woman who is attractive in a girl-next-door way. I’m not saying that such an obsession is not possible, but the staging gave no motivation for it and it was all rather puzzling.

    • Krunoslav says:

      Was Feldie there to boo Rancatore? :)

    • Poison Ivy says:

      The Pasha’s dialogue was definitely snipped to almost nothing in the DVD. The whole opera clocks in at 125 minutes, just to give you an idea of how abridged the dialogue is.

    • mb says:

      Are you commenting on Rancatore’s appearance? That way scorn lies.

      • Cicciabella says:

        Commenting on, but not criticising, mb. There is obviously nothing wrong Ms Rancatore’s looks, on the contrary. I’m questioning the wisdom of peopling an opera production with model-type extras in a completely non-ironic way. It’s the equivalent of asking models with untrained voices to sing the smaller parts. The thinking behind this production seemed to be: Let’s turn this opera into a catwalk extravaganza so that people who think they don’t like opera will come and see it. Maybe if the production concept had worked it would have been a different story, but the catwalk idea seemed very much “tacked on” to me. In any case, the audience in the hangar seemed to be having fun.

  • -Ed. says:

    But it’s not a catwalk. It’s a runway. Models walk down runways. And airports have runways too! OMG!!

  • SilvestriWoman says:

    Please, Jesus, before I die, allow to me to hear Camarena sing Ferrando -- just once!

  • Cocky Kurwenal says:

    I saw Kurt Rydl as Osmin in 1996 and it was rather blustery even then. Osmin’s arias are really hard.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      The one I own falls between those two — 2002, Mehta at Florence. And…also not good. Rydl was a satisfactory “house bass” at some point a couple decades ago, but nothing to get excited about. He is Alvise on the old (’86) Vienna State Opera Gioconda video with Marton and Domingo.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        I saw a Hagen at an impressionable age (also 1996) that I thought was very impressive. I think the voice had that sort of darkness, complexity and size for a while that meant he could create a strong impression in roles like that, where remarkable timbre and the ability to make a lot of noise at the top is kind of what counts most, and any questions of line, legato and beauty are secondary.

        • The Conte says:

          I loved the grainy, rough colour his voice had in the 90s, and I haven’t heard him for years.