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BWW Opera Review: Oh, To Be Abducted from This SERAGLIO at the Met

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

I wonder whether James Levine imagined that Mozart's DIE ENFUHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL (THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO) would be his swan song as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera. I think he might have chosen better.

Sure, it's a favorite of the Maestro's--a lighthearted way to finish off the season--and Levine seemed to have a good time at the podium, with the Met's great orchestra reacting to his every nod and tic of the baton. This worked well enough in the overture, which gave an indication of the delicious musical possibilities of the evening ahead. Unfortunately, that potential didn't come to fruition--at least, not on the vocal side of the performance, which was disappointing.

Let's start with soprano Albina Shagimuratova, who sang the pivotal role of Konstanze. This is her second starring role at the Met, after singing the title role in last season's revival of LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, and she showed the same pluses and minuses displayed in that role: a large instrument with solid technique, not at all unpleasant to hear, but with a vacant mien that frequently seemed like she was lost in her own thoughts. She managed a pretty fiery take on the opera's big showpiece, "Marten aller arten," but it was mostly a generalized performance that might do for, say, Mozart's Queen of the Night (NB: her Met debut role), where anything might be forgiven in exchange for good high notes, but Konstanze demands something more.

A more lively presence might have helped Shagimuratova's own success, but wouldn't have improved the fortunes of her love interest, Belmonte, sung quite demurely by tenor Paul Appleby. The tenor, who gave such outstanding recent performances at the Met as Tom Rakewell in THE RAKE'S PROGRESS and David in DIE MEISTERSINGER, seemed ill at ease here, with problems in production at the top of his range (though he improved somewhat as the evening wore on). The two principals might as well have been on different planets for all the chemistry they had. (Mars and Venus, indeed.)

Konstanze and Belmonte's "downstairs" counterparts, their servants Pedrillo and Blondchen, were sung by tenor Brenton Ryan and soprano Kathleen Kim. Ryan was boyish and charming, with a sweet tenor, but could have used better stage presence; Kim was quite at home with the flights of coloratura that the role demands and had the spunky side of her role down pat. But she seemed to be doing a riff on her Olympia--the mechanical doll in LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN--and was quite exhausting to listen to. Rounding out the principals was bass Hans-Peter Konig as Osmin, the overseer of the harem--a fine comic foil for Kim--while the speaking role of the Pasha Selim was sensibly played by Matthias von Stegmann (who also did the role in the last revival, which headlined Damrau and Polenzani).

Considering that it's a successful opera written by Mozart, ENTFUHRUNG has had a surprisingly thin history at the Met, where it had its belated debut in 1946, more than 150 years after it was written! (Then, again, it is a singspiel, with spoken dialogue in German...though that hasn't stopped DIE ZAUBERFLOTE.)

The John Dexter production (with set and costume design by Jocelyn Herbert, lighting by Gil Wechsler), now directed by Stephen Pickover, dates back to 1979 and certainly seems from another era. I'm not sure that the Met is about to invest in a new one, despite the many charms of the score, considering the political perils involved in an opera that pits Westerners versus Muslims (though largely sidestepped in the current revival). But this one looks like it's ready to be put out to pasture--like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy --unless, of course, some brilliant new star drops out of the heavens. Then, all bets are off, such being the world of opera.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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