Hey avid music lovers and Mozart aficionados, let me fill you in with some insiders stories about this recording. I was fortunate to be the assistant director in the Strasburg Opera production (that's Strasburg in Alsace, France, not Salzburg, Austria) from which this recording originated. It was first mounted in 1995, and the cast was the same as on the record, except for Belmonte, sung (beautifully) by the French tenor Yann Beuron, and Konstanze (Rosa Mannion). The director was the Brit. and exquisite person Stephen Lawless. It was, I believe, young Patricia Petibon's first outing on stage - she was great, but had a STROOONG French accent. Blonde is supposed to be an English maid - not here !
The production was revived two years later in view of the recording, still with Rosa Mannion, but with up-and-coming Ian Bostridge as Belmonte - more hip than Beuron, I s'pose, but not necessarily better. Bostridge (also the author of a Phd thesis on Witchcraft in 17th century England!) has a silky, light mozartean tenor voice (Beuron had more of a Bach evangelist), but also very frail and insecure, and there was much stagewise that Beuron did two years earlier and that he refused to do. By then, Petibon had also made tremendous progress with her German accent. An anecdote: the production's concept of an English maid had been changed to that of a French maid to accommodate for her supposedly still French accent, but that implied obtaining Christie's approval to change a line of text and rhythm, in the Blonde-Osmin duett: "ihr Engländer" to "ihr Franzoser". When that finally came, Petibon actually had a hard time going back to a French accent in the the spoken text. But you needn't worry: none of that is on the record.
The idea was that the recording would benefit from the stage-life atmosphere brought by the performers participation to the recent production. Sadly, it turned out that Rosa Mannion was vocally worn in that revival, and finally she couldn't make the recording. I think she interrupted her career shortly after - a pity, as she is a wonderful person. Schäfer then jumped in, but only for the recording sessions then - hence perhaps the lack of involvement that some (not me) hear in her performance. And the last stroke: on the recording session days, it is Petibon that fell ill and couldn't sing. She was subsequently dubbed over the orchestra - nicely done: even knowing it I certainly cannot detect it, and no-one seems to have. Hence also the fact that it is an actress and not herself who delivers her spoken text in the recording - it is nicely done and the voices match acceptably, but still extremely frustrating when one has witnessed the wit and spirit of her exchanges with Osmin and Pedrillo on stage! Now that is a big loss!
By Christie's own admission, his big influence in shaping his ideas on Entführung was... the recording of Sir Thomas Beecham. Not a bad model, either, and that probably explains the beautifully balanced classicism of Christie's approach. It is played on period instruments, but without any of the sometimes convincing but often provoking excesses of tempo or dynamics that are the trademark of period-instrument conductors such as Norrington or Harnoncourt.
A last word on the production of Stephen Lawless. An unassuming man and (possibly consequently) underrated director, Stephen (who'd stepped in very late, following the cancellation by a first director) did a marvelous job, with the help of beautiful sets designed by the young Belgian Benoît Dugardyn, always finding convincing solutions to the riddles and apparent inconsistencies of the Libretto. What was of particular value in Lawless' approach was that he did not take Mozart's characters, as it is still too often done, as mere cardboard caricatures, but as characters of flesh and blood, and mind and feelings. One of the main themes his staging seeked to underline was that of the nagging doubt underlying each character's sentiment and love for his partner: Belmonte doubts Konstanze's love (he explicitly says so in his first aria), and that doubt may have some grounding, as Konstanze herself, despite her fiery rejection, may feel a secret attraction to Selim (easy to understand, when he's played by an actor as seductive as Jurg Low) - which makes her rejection of him all the more fiery. Pedrillo of course doubts Blonde, but she is not at all displeased to have two puppets to play with - and her ways do drive Osmin crazy. And Osmin is not just a ruthless brute, he is a refined, suffering man in love (wonderfully played by Alan Ewing), and his cruelty only derives from being cheated and abandoned. And what convices love-forlorn and betrayed Selim not to put the runaway Konstanze-Belmonte couple to death is not just a bout of sublime but unaccounted for clemency, it is the realization that his own love to Konztance will never reach the profoundity of the couple's love for one another in the face of incoming death. This theme of love strengthening through the tests and trials of doubt and threat of death runs deep in all of Mozart's operas, and I hope and believe some of that spirit is heard on the recording. Enjoy!