Mozart — The Abduction from the Seraglio

From September, 15-30, Opera San Jose is presenting Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. First performed in 1782 this opera is still amusing audiences today. When the curtain opened, set designer, Steven C. Kemp’s attention to detail was immediately apparent: a large Turkish palace painted over every inch in intricate paintings, landscaped greenery and fig trees. Decked out in a pith helmet, the lead tenor, Matthew Grills, made his company debut in quite a lively, comical way. Running around hiding from the guards outside sultan Pasha Selim’s palace, he runs into Osim, played by Ashraf Sewailam. Both singers are perfectly suited for these comedic roles and their rapport was wonderful. One slight drawback to the quick banter was that the singers tended to get slightly ahead of the orchestra in the fast recitative sections.

The most intense applause in the entire opera was after Grills’ aria Konstanze, Konstanze, dich wiederzusehen…O wie ängstlich, a song of longing for his love who was kidnapped and taken away to this Turkish seraglio (housing for the ladies in a harem). His friend Pedrillo, sung by Michael Dailey, is in love with Konstanza’s maid, Blonde and they make a plan to break the two girls out of the seraglio at night out of a window. In making it safely to the girls and revealing their plan, the four sing a quartet which was complicated, but sung with complete precision. Act II opened with a gasp of delight as the gardens of the courtyard of the palace were revealed. Konstanze, played by Rebecca Davis, is with her maid, Blonde(Katrina Galka) and together they sing about escaping from the Pasha Selim’s(Nathan Stark) harem. Act III had Grills singing another aria with stream of strenuous melismas, open vowels sung through many pitches.

This opera is unusual in that it features two coloratura sopranos — coloratura being known for its extremely high range and intense speed and agility in vocal passages. The other remarkable feature is spoken dialogue, which in this performance was spoken in English. That choice was slightly jarring to the listener, although the choice of translation was updated in include modern phrases to make it more humorous. The second and third acts become more subdued with ideas of loyalty and gender roles taking a more serious tone.  The last noteworthy concept, even for a Mozart opera, is the happy ending of everyone ending up together!


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