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The Seraglio, English Touring Opera review – focused and light | reviews, news & interviews

The Seraglio, English Touring Opera review – focused and light

The Seraglio, English Touring Opera review – focused and light

Small-scale, traditional staging allows Mozart’s early comedy to shine

Pretty, unthreatening pictures for Mozart's fun SingspielAll images Jane Hobson

No great innovations in this Seraglio – as ETO are styling Mozart’s early Singspiel (its full title in translation is The Abduction from the Seraglio – but a traditional staging that makes the most of all the work’s characters and quirks.

Mozart’s evocation of an exotic, and unknown, Oriental world is perfectly rendered by director Stephen Medcalf, who finds an ideal balance between the various love interests and the regular invitations to slapstick comedy. He does it all with a light touch, and with a real focus on the characters – all well cast. Sets are modest – it’s a touring show – but the small scale works to the production’s advantage, maintaining the focus and always keeping attention on the leads.

The set is a single rotating unit, on one side Osmin’s gatehouse, a Hans Sachs-style workshop, and on the other a harem, a complex of large gilded cages. And that’s plenty for telling this story. Osmin’s lair has a large table which doubles as a bed. A lot of the third act is taken up with duets, where the lovers are separated by bars, for which the cages serve. The only omission is a balcony, for Belmonte’s rescue attempt. In the event, he and Pedrillo perform a comedy routine with the ladder he brought for the job, but they end up forcing the lock to the cage instead. Matthew Stiff as Osman and Richard Pinkstone as PedrilloEvery singer is well-cast, both dramatically and vocally – there is only a chorus of four (two guards, two concubines), so it is a small company. Proceedings are dominated by the Osmin of Matthew Stiff (pictured above left), an imposing presence, both physically and vocally. His bariton is lyrical and nimble, and impressively accurate in the runs. Dramatically, too, his is a richly emotional account, brutish but sympathetic. The Pasha of Alex Andreou (pictured below) is not quite as acutely drawn, he is another imposing presence, but he doesn’t command the authority required, and his angry tirades often get shouty.

John-Colyn Gyeantey plays Belmonte straight, but there is always a suspicion that the character is being sent up, as in his act III aria “Love, only love, can now direct me,” where we see Pedrillo standing behind mocking his protestations of love. There is a slightly laboured vibrato to Gyeantey’s tone, but dramatically he’s spot on. Richard Pinkstone (pictured above right) is suitably wet as Pedrillo, and his light tenor is as much as the role requires. Pedrillo’s interactions with the other characters are particularly well handled, especially his first act confrontation with Osmin, here set in Osmin’s gatehouse and played out as a highly physical battle for territory in this tiny space. As Blonde, Nazan Fikret has the finest voice in the cast, clear and rich, with plenty of character. The production makes the most of her many comic moments, like her second act aria “With smiles and kind caresses,” complaining about Osmin’s advances, here sung as she gives him a message, and takes out all her frustrations on his back. Lucy Hall sings well as Konstanze, her voice light but secure, and her big aria the highlight of the first act.Alex Andreou as Pasha Selim

The work is sung in English, a wise choice given the amount of spoken dialogue. The translation, by Andrew Porter, is colloquial and doesn’t strive for rhymes. Surtitles are provided, but are not required, given the fine diction of all the cast. Conductor John Andrews leads a buoyant account of the score. The orchestra is small, but that suits the scale of the staging. The many string solos come across well, as do the vibrant woodwinds. But the focus is always on the soloists, who between them carry this production. The work is an excellent choice for touring opera, and the production is a real ensemble effort. Recommended!

The Seraglio is an excellent choice for touring opera, and the production is a real ensemble effort


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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