Wajdi Mouawad is a prolific and talented Canadian of Lebanese origin who is a true man. He has written, directed and acted in numerous plays (among other accomplishments) and he knows the Middle East. The Canadian Opera Company has tapped into his talents by assigning him to direct its new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio.
Mouawad has gone a few steps further than the usual duties of an interpreter of a classic work by superimposing a play on Mozart’s work and making changes to the dialogue to suit his message. The Abduction opens with the Spanish nobleman Belmonte standing in front of the palace of the Turk Pasha Selim trying to figure out how to rescue his beloved Konstanze. She was abducted by pirates and you know the rest.
(top, l-r) Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Claire de Sévigné as Blonde; (bottom, l-r)
Owen McCausland as Pedrillo and Peter Mauro as Belmonte. Photo: Michael Cooper
Mouawad adds a playlet before this. We are in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment and Belmont’s father (not in Mozart’s opera) and friends are celebrating the rescue of Kostanze. This is a celebration of civilization over Turkish barbarism and there is a game where people bash the head of a Turk with a sledge hammer. Such fun, no? Well, Konstanze has seen Turks up close and she has a different opinion of them.
Start Mozart’s work, please.
Belmonte (Swiss tenor Mauro Peter) is the ardent lover of Konstanze and his job is to be the ardent lover of Konstanze with the odd fit of jealousy. He starts with “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” (“Here then shall I see you”) about how he suffered without Konstanze. Then he tells us how ardently his lovesick heart is beating (“O wie ängstlich”) and moves up the scale to rapture and joy in “Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen” (“When tears of joy are flowing.” Peter has his job cut out and we never doubt his ardour but Konstanze, despite what she says and sings, may have some reservations the way Mouawad presents her.
The vocal part of the production belongs to soprano Jane Archibald as Konstanze. She has a silken voice and she projects her ardour and her pain with superb effect. She sings about love and its sorrows in “Ach ich liebte” and then rises to the splendour of “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of every kind.”) She goes from defiance to pleading for mercy to accepting her fate. Konstanze is a more fully developed character in the opera’s unsatisfactory plot and Archibald gives a bravura performance.
Soprano Claire de Sévigné was a spry, lithe and delectably sung and assertive Blonde. Her lover Pedrillo was well accounted for by tenor Owen McCausland. Croation bass Goran Jurić sang the role of the creepy Osmin. He has a good voice but he was simply overwhelmed by the orchestra when he tried his low notes.
Pasha Selim’s palace is by the sea (the getaway is in a boat) and one can do much with Middle Eastern design motifs. Set Designer Emmanuel Clolus has set the opera in no particular place. There are large, moveable, mostly dark-coloured panels. About the only colourful thing is a large globe which holds people on a couple of levels that appears near the end of the opera. The seraglio ladies are pretty and dressed tastefully but you will not go to this production for the set.
Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Mauro Peter as Belmonte. Photo: Michael Cooper
The Abduction is a Singspiel meaning it combines songs and dialogue. There is lots of dialogue even without Mouawad’s additions. Why are we forced to read surtitles? Why is the dialogue at least not in English? I am not sure there is a defensible argument and I will not buy the spiel about some singers not knowing English.
Mouawad’s intention is clearly to represent the Turks as humane, generous and civilized. There is no sign that we are in a Turkish palace at all. Scant turbans, no minarets, and no indication of a seraglio. Fair enough but we came to see Mozart’s imperfect opera and adding a playlet and making changes in the dialogue in order to make a point may be going too far. The opera can be done in perhaps a bit over two hours plus intermission. This production went to three and a half hour including a 25 minute intermission. That’s approaching Wagnerian dimensions. The music carries this opera; the plot does not. Stick to Mozart.
The Abduction from the Seraglio by W. A. Mozart opened on February 7 and will be performed a total of seven times until February 24, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West Toronto, Ont. www.coc.ca