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Die Entführung aus dem Serail, OAE, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, OAE, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, OAE, Queen Elizabeth Hall

A newly commissioned narration draws all eyes to Mozart's most neglected opera

Enchantment may be more traditionally the province of The Magic Flute, but there were certainly charms at work in the Queen Elizabeth Hall yesterday, conjured principally by Simon Butteriss (pictured below right). Commissioned by the OAE, Butteriss has produced both a new translation and a narration (which he himself performs) that takes the place of the traditional sections of dialogue. The tone is gently and aptly satirical (“Belmonte can’t bear to hear another tenor singing, so retires immediately”), the pace swift, and the effect immediate and deeply comic. This is Jackanory for musically literate adults and you could hear the pleasure and hush of an audience being willingly bewitched.

simonbOf course there was also a small matter of the music, courtesy of not only a large-scale OAE but further swelled by the Joyful Company of Singers (in the don’t-even-bother-blinking-and-you’ll-still-miss-it chorus role) and a fine line-up of soloists. Leading the cast were Susan Gritton as Konstanze and young French-Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun as Belmonte. Combining a high range with a slightly darker vocal colour, Antoun was a definite rival to Butteriss in the magus stakes. Conjuring the smoothest and most untroubled of lines from Mozart’s vertiginous writing, he warmed from a not-displeasingly husky start to a purity and warmth – "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke" was crooned with the ease of a Neapolitan love song – that was further aided by his evident comfort in the dramatic side of the role.

As faithful sidekick Pedrillo, Tilman Lichdi was all whimsy and wit, delivering quite the most engaging dramatic performance of the night while also dispatching his plot-critical serenade ("In Mohrenland gefangen war”) with unexpected control and line. Substituting at short notice for the advertised Timothy Mirfin, Alastair Miles made for a solidly sung Osmin, even if he did fall rather short of the “Big, burly, beturbanned bass” of Butteriss’s narration and occasionally struggled with the lower extremes of the part.

malinAs Konstanze and her faithful Blonde, Gritton and Malin Christensson (pictured left) were in danger of being eclipsed by the dramatic highjinks of the men, but fought back gamely. Gritton held back for much of the first two acts, only giving looser rein to her voice for “Martern aller Artern” where it was at last allowed to swell to full force. Often leaving phrase-ends and other small details rather raggedly unfinished, the beauty was in the passages of sustained lyricism and in the ensembles where she rang out cleanly and with presence. Christensson, vocally rather unbalanced against the sheer weight of Gritton, nevertheless gave a neat and sweetly sung reading of Mozart’s fiesty maidservant, investing her passionate opinions with all the expression one could hope for.

Guided with elegant efficiency (and occasionally rather dynamic lunges) by Labadie, the OAE were on strong form. Some unusual delicacy from both trumpets and horns was balanced by the bright colours of piccolos, triangle and flutes, mellowed only slightly by the blended wash of strings. Overpowered by the OAE’s enthusiasm, the Joyful Company of Singers were rather muffled, their diction and most of their tone lost under the weight of orchestral fanfares.

From a position of historically assured favour among Mozart’s works, Die Entführung aus dem Serail has slipped, if not entirely into the margins, then pretty close in recent years. Heard at the hands of the OAE, the wit of its interchanges and the colours of its orchestral writing need little to recommend them. But if a case were to be made then this singspiel could find no more persuasive an advocate that Butteriss. The OAE must be rejoicing in their commission – a work I feel certain will be around long enough to see a turn in the London fortunes of this delightful opera.

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