Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Abduction from the Seraglio - WMC 20th of February 2010

Le photo from WNO

As I was freezing moi backside off while crossing over to the Armadillo last night I was wondering if I wouldn't have preferred to have been at home watching women in skin tight lycra throwing themselves down a snow covered hill in Canada instead of spending the night watching one of Mozart's lesser known pieces that had garnered a mixed bag of reviews the previous week. If everything I had read was to be believed then I was going to regret the chance to miss Lindsey Vonn's backside juddering along with more tempi than the best known bit from Rossini's William Tell Overture.

Pushing all this to the back of my mind I made way upwards, upwards, upwards to the home of the visiting confused ("Where are the toilets?") and the short of cash (me). For the opening overture we were treated to a map of Europe / Orient and, erm, well the knowledge that everything was to take place on board The Orient Express at the beginning of the 1920's. The production, born in America under the midwifery of James Robinson has echoes of Crosby / Hope Road Movies with a bit of The Three Stooges thrown in. The comedy is played to the extreme – perhaps a bit too much because after a while the jokes that are funny have been diluted by one crotch joke too many. Another slightly troublesome aspect was the insistence of Robinson to keep in clunky Muslim jokes involving veils and trussed up servants that would have had many audience members flashing to memory banks of the happenings of recent years. But all in all the set is a dream to look at with all the action set onboard a train partitioned off into various carriages. The next time I'm travelling long distance I want that train!

Playing the thanklessly straight roles of Konstanze and Belmonte were American soprano, Lisette Oropesa and Irish tenor Robin Tritschler who were a visually believable couple. I'd been looking forward to Oropesa singing since I saw her in a recent Met production of La Rondine opposite Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and, in a small world coincidence myself…okay, not myself but Marius Brenciu, a former winner of Cardiff Singer of the World. Her opening rendition of Ach ich liebte was competently sung, if one or two of the money notes were pinched – but given this is her opening aria a certain amount of common sense must come into play. Where she showed her intriguing promise was in a heartfelt Welcher Kummer that was sung with understanding of Konstanze's position and not as a vanity exercise that can happen with this aria with some singers. Her lover, Tritschler possesses a beautifully clean tenor that did justice to the decision to cast him as a replacement for the originally named Colin Lee (who, unfortunately, has admittedly bigger fish to fry these days). Tritschler played the dashing hero with aplomb. My only regret is that as beautiful a voice he has, it lacks strength when called upon to compete with an orchestra.

As the comedy duo Blonde and Pedrillo, Claire Ormshaw and Wynne Evans performed with a keen sense of comedy and character. Lancashire born Ormshaw proved again that she's a pocket rocket with a rich middle to her voice and she made for a feisty Blonde. Carmarthen Tenor Evans (yes, the Go Compare tenor) gave an energetic performance as Pedrillo and was the focal point of much of the laughter on stage – but don't be fooled into thinking it's his slapstick that has got him onto the stage, he has a voice with plenty of steel when he needs it.

The remaining performances were given by Greece's Petros Magoulas as Osmin – an assured performance given that he had to wear an enlarged costume that took some skill in manoeuvring around the stage. Although he didn't put a foot wrong I would have preferred a gruffer voiced Osmin to battle against Pedrillo. Pasha Selim was played suavely by Simon Thorpe – doing more than justice to a role, and admittedly a libretto that is hardly Shakespearean in its depth.

One criticism I would make is that with the set design the chorus were forced to sing from too few spots and through too many pieces of furniture for their sparkling cameos to have the energy they give to the work as a whole.

Criticisms over the orchestral playing have been laid at the door of conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini that I thought overly harsh. Sure the opening overture was slightly hampered by a tinsy winsy slow tempo that felt a bit disjointed, and there were one or two occasions where a more flowing approach to the score would have been appreciated but these were exceptions on the night I attended.

Despite my doubts it was worth a trip out – in the scheme of things it may not be the most profound production to have ever graced an operatic stage, but with the never ending breadth of misery available to opera goers it's always worth remembering that life is more than just about tragedy – and Mozart, being the canny bloke he was understood this. Leave the grieving diva alone for a night and enjoy a Marx Bros style night out.