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VINE VOICEon 12 October 2015
This has to be one of the very best performances of Mozart's 'The Abduction from the Seraglio ever staged. It has everything: sympathetic orchestration, great acting, wonderful singing and scene-friendly staging. All right, I realise that some viewers might find the staging too sparse, but, for me, therein lies its realism. Whereas 'cluttering up' can so easily curb the imagination, simple, suggestive staging stimulates it and this is what we have here. It's not helpful to have some stage designer telling us what the setting of a scene should look like. Good staging stimulates the minds of the viewers, allowing them the enjoyment of exercising their imaginations stimulated by the music and singing and here we have a superb example how all this works out into a great performance.

When any work falls into the category of being a comedy, it doesn't mean that it's supposed to be some kind of 'funny ha ha' performance. Top grade, well informed comedy brings out the ridiculousness of life in subtle fashion and this is what we have here with this production with its excellent interpretation of Mozart's witty humour. The use of modern costuming also works well, which it never does with historical works; but here we have a timeless window on the interactive idiosyncrasies of characters caught up in an interactive, emotional trap from which they all want to be rescued, but have no sensible idea as to how to best achieve this, which causes them all to end up in a classic muddle requiring a benign personality in the form of a pasha to sort it all out. The genius of Mozart lies in its timelessness.

I have a sneaking feeling that Mozart understood women and desired a more rewarding place for them in society. Otherwise, how was he able to create such realistic female characters for his operas? Certainly, the two strongest characters in this work are Konstanze, superbly sung and acted by Diana Damrau and her maid Blonde, equally well performed by Olga Peretyatko. These two ladies put their all into it, with the result that it doesn't matter that much if the viewer misses some of the translations into English at the bottom of the screen. The ladies just take the viewer with them enabling you to realise instinctively what is going on. Konstanze's love interest, Belmonte, well sung and performed by Christoph Strehl, comes across as a diffident character never quite sure of what he is doing or where he is going. It's all so true to life. It's nothing short of a miracle how Mozart understood humanity so very well and him dying when he was only 35.

Pedrillo, Belmont's manservant also employed as the pasha's gardener, delightfully played by Norbert Ernst, is rather small for his tall love interest, Blonde, but he was obviously chosen for his voice, suitability for the role and his acting ability. Franz-Josef Selig is perfect in the role of Osmin, the bossy palace overseer. I love the way he gets all upset at his desk and shouts and thumps around all over the place. Finally, there's his boss, the Pasha, perfectly acted by Christoph Quest. Both of these characters put on tantrums when they can't get their way with Konstanze and Blonde. Oh, Mozart, how well you understood human nature! Happily, this performance is worthy of the great man's genius.

One of the special delights of this performance is how the choir, on the two occasions when it is used, is an absolute delight when it sings from boxes at either side of the stage. Orchestration under the baton of Ivor Bolton is top grade and the stage direction by Christof Loy is of the best. I found that the Blu-ray disc plays well without problems of any kind. The humour in this work is subtle, but it's there all right, and this performance brings it out to a tee. It's an all time great.
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Mozart wrote this work at the age of 25 having just left the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg and at the start of his freelance career as a musician. The work's commission was to be for the Emperor's own National Singspiel company as opposed to a commission for an opera, an important distinction as this turns the work into more of a play with singing than an opera (essentially a sung play).

This performance of Mozart's Singspiel, most importantly therefore, includes the whole of the dialogue. It is only by doing this of course that the work is able to make proper dramatic sense. Too often the dialogue is heavily cut. Consequently, in those cases, the whole concept of a Singspiel with its emphasis on the spoken word, as opposed to opera where the emphasis is on the sung word, is lost. No such errors are made here and this production generates great dramatic impact.

Of course, simply restoring the dialogue and failing to act it would also fail. In this case the dialogue is delivered by all the members of the cast with completely gripping effect. No sense of simple declamation, rather a real drama of interacting and conflicting passions. Great use is made of silences to heighten the impact of the drama.

The `twist' of this production concerns the clear implications of the title. `Abduction' from the harem implies that the girls are taken from the harem perhaps without their full consent or at least with conflicting emotions. Without this dramatic option an alternative title may have suggested a simple escape or flight from the harem more obviously. In this production therefore, it becomes clear that the two girls have learnt to respect their Turkish captors at the very least. Consequently their intended `rescue' by their former lovers is not quite as uncomplicated as it may have been. Nevertheless, Mozart's final music and libretto underlines their deeper commitment to their former partners with the over-riding emphasis being upon the need for mercy and understanding.

Musically the production sparkles and is led with great energy and also sensitivity by the conductor, Ivor Bolton. The two soprano leads (Damrau and Peretyatko) are very well sung indeed and they deliver their parts with total conviction. They are helped in this regard by the support of an impressively sung and acted Osmin (Selig) who has a deeply resonating voice ideally suited to the part and the non-singing part played by Christopher Guest as the Pasha. The two erstwhile suitors (Strehl and Ernst) maintain the high standards of the whole cast. The chorus is energetically effective on its rare appearances and extends the staging area by singing from two of the overhanging boxes.

This is an outstanding production combining real sparkle and dramatic drive. The recording is of equally high standard and delivers particularly sharp imaging and excellent sound of great clarity in either stereo or DTS-HD MA 5.1. This should give great enjoyment and satisfaction to purchasers and I would suggest that it is therefore well-worth the full 5 star rating.
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on 25 August 2013
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on 24 March 2012
Why do they do it? It seems to be the fashion today for smart-ass directors to presume they know better than the composers, we have had a run of quite dreadful "modern productions" on Blu-ray recently that are just so disappointing and here comes another!

I know it is expensive to mount an opera but a table and a few chairs rented from the church hall, floppy suits el-cheapo from the souk, DJs and fake Turkish hats are not what I was hoping for. Only the ladies come out of this well, both are absolutely splendid. I have no problem at all with moving the story about a bit but transferring it to a barn with minimal sets and costumes looking as if it is all taking place on a grade B movie set is not what Mozart would have planned for.

As with the Amsterdam Blu-ray the dialogue is complete and it goes on and on - all a bit too long in my opinion. This is a comedy and much of the humour is in the dialogue but some judicious trimming here and there would have not gone amiss. There are many bits that drag and are not funny at all.

The singing is very fine, particularly the ladies and Osmin, but the acting under the misguided direction of Mr Loy did not grab me at all. My favourite is still the Mehta DVD with Rydl but the picture is poor and not all the cast are up to scratch. Anway back to this performance: It is a lost opportunity, another dreary DJ job and I cannot recommend it. At the moment the Amsterdam version is the best on Blu but there is still room for a decent traditional buffo version of this most marvellous of operas
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on 26 February 2013
Now, I always thought of Die Entführung aus dem Serail as one of Mozart's comic masterpieces, yet this production seems oddly devoid of humour. It seems to me that the comic tension of the original, a lot of which was based on the social and religious differences between the Christian and Muslim world, has succumbed to political correctness, with these tensions suffering as a result!
The singing throughout is excellent, although Diana Damrau's performance as Konstanze should receive a special mention, it is secure and consistently beautiful throughout. She sings the extended version of Marten aller Arten, and it is this which for me is one of the main highlight of the production. Opposite her in the role of Belmonte, Christoph Strehl gives a stylish and sensitive performance which has won him some plaudits. The orchestral playing under Ivor Bolton is spirited, if rather slow, and the chorus are in good voice.
The production is directed by Christof Loy, who has opted for a minimalist staging and this, along with the modern costumes, seems overall to work well, it does however, serve to heighten the lack of humour of the production, it does however highlight the drama more.
Though beautifully sung and wonderfully televised, I can only give this production muted recommendation due to its lack of humour, the situations are still there, they are just not exploited for their comic potential, which for me is a pre-requisite of a comic opera! The documentation is a bit limited also, and the only extras are a series of clips from other opera DVDs. There are various productions offering an equally strong cast which make more of the operas comic potential, even Bolton's Decca recording, which tends to have livelier tempos, is worth consideration.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 February 2012
There's an in-built difficulty in Mozart's earliest 'mature' comic opera that every modern opera stage director must consider a challenge - the long passages of unaccompanied spoken dialogue and recitative that are scattered throughout. Yes, the actual drama of Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail is a bit silly too and the libretto isn't the most sophisticated, but even if you manage to make the plot work dramatically (having good singers can help gloss over the inconsistencies which is certainly the case here), you're still left with those lulls between Mozart's beautiful musical passages that can potentially kill the opera dead in its tracks. This production by Christof Loy at the Liceu in Barcelona, aided and abetted by an outstanding cast and an exhilarating performance of the score from the Liceu orchestra under Ivor Bolton, crucially takes account of those weaknesses, and if the result is still not entirely convincing, it's nonetheless still one of the best versions of this Mozart opera that you're ever likely to come across.

Traditionally, the way of handling the spoken dialogue in Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail is to heavily trim it and get it out of the way as quickly as possible so as to move on to the music, but such an approach fails to adequately take into account the fact that the main dramatic drive of the opera actually lies in between the musical numbers and arias. In some respects, it could be argued that the spoken passages are equally as important as the arias, if not even more so in this particular case since Mozart's music for Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail is not the most lyrically attuned to the emotional content. Christof Loy attempts to address the vacuity of the arias and the dead-space of the dialogue by getting the singers to act properly. There is no declamation of the lines here as they would more commonly be expressed, but rather Loy directs the performers to deliver the lines naturalistically and makes use of their silences in the same way that he makes use of space on the stage to define the relationship between them.

Loy's direction isn't really geared towards appeasing traditionalists then - the sets are sparse (although not as sparse as the director usually decorates them) and the costumes don't reflect any specific period, although there is a nod towards a middle-eastern flavour in some of the attire - but it should at least be evident that this is a respectful production that is aimed towards making the best out of what is an imperfect opera, one that the director clearly thinks deserves to be considered more than just a lightweight entertainment. He doesn't always succeed, but it's an impressive attempt that is given additional merit from the terrific, lively account of the score under Ivor Bolton that works well in conjunction with the staging. The singing is of an exceptionally high standard right across the board, but the performance of Diana Damrau deserves to be singled out as it's not only one of the best Konstanze's you'll ever hear, but when placed in the context of this fine treatment of the opera, it's an incredible tour de force performance that highlights the extraordinary abilities of one of the best sopranos in the world today.

An exceptional production - one of the best I've ever seen - the Blu-ray is just as impressive. There are no extra features, but the HD image quality and the sound reproduction are amazing. Subtitles are in German, English, French, Spanish, Catalan, Chinese and Korean.
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