I can't resist "Abduction from the Seraglio." I reach for it when I'm blue and a few bars into the overture, I'm smiling. I hear a young Mozart, full of fresh ideas. It was composed as a comic Singspiel. The characters sing and then they spiel (talk), sing and then spiel some more. It was a great night out for audiences of Mozart's day. They would socialize during the "spiel" and stop to listen when the singing started.
This production from Florence, conducted by Zubin Mehta, is delightful. He conducts with great energy and good spirit (he's smiling in almost all the brief camera shots of him). The sets are colorful, with inventive, intricately painted Moroccan-looking screens that move to bring about the scene changes.
Mozart gives the tenor so many beautiful love songs, starting with Belmonte bursting into a song of longing for Konstanze as soon as the overture ends. Then, in "Konstanze, Konstanze," as he sings "My lovesick heart is beating," you can hear his heart throbbing in the falling thirds. (Mozart wrote to his father about this aria: "You see the trembling, the faltering.") Rainer Trost is one of my favorite Mozart tenors. He sings beautifully here and (10 years earlier) as Ferrando in the wonderful DVD of "Cosi Fan Tutte" from Theatre du Chatelet. His sweet voice and his sincere acting make you immediately sympathize with his characters.
It's a treat to see Patrizia Ciofi in the supporting role of Blonde because, within months, by taking over the role of Lucie from Natalie Dessay in the French production of Donizetti's "Lucie de Lammermoor" for its DVD filming, Ciofi became a major coloratura star (her most recent DVD being the role of Marie opposite Juan Diego Florez in "Fille du Regiment"). Her voice is strong and flexible. Her technique is flawless. While watching this production, one can't help but wish she had been cast as Konstanze. Eva Mei gives the role her best, but Mozart's wickedly difficult arias prove too much for Mei at times and her voice can become shrill. She gets better as the opera moves along, and her "Martern aller Arten" is splendid, earning her a curtain call.
Some call "Seraglio" second tier Mozart. I don't agree. Just listen to his intimate use of the orchestra, whether it be one section of it accompanying a voice (the woodwinds in Belmonte's "Ich baue ganz") or the subtle insertion of a complete little chamber piece before an aria (Konstanze's "Martern aller Arten"). And what better theme for a an opera than the admonition not to rush to judgment about people. It's the "foreigner" who turns out to be the hero of the drama, showing compassion and forgiveness at the end. The Pashim's wisdom is acknowledged by the four Westerners who, in the final chorus, sing "Nothing is so hateful as revenge. To be humane and kind, and to forgive without self-interest, is the mark of a great soul." I love this opera and I love this production.