Readers know that in my view opera production has fallen into a disastrous trend of distortion; it started in Europe about thirty years ago and has steadily grown, unfortunately promoted by directors of opera houses and music critics that have become accomplices and promoters. Much later but just as lamentable, the trend has landed in our country. To the point that nowadays to be brave and courageous means to do productions that respect the music and the libretto and that understand the fascination of opera as a way to visit distant cultures. But no, nowadays the Troy war is dealt with Kalashnikovs and it is chic to distort things to the point of no recognition. Those that defend the art of Wieland Wagner or Zeffirelli (very different but equally valuable) are considered obsolete in their views, they aren´t capable of "lateral thinking"... No, now the Walhalla is in Puerto Madero, and an eighteenth-century rescue opera about "The Abduction from the Seraglio" becomes an airport taken by taliban terrorists for the sole purpose of keeping Konstanze hostage of Pasha Selim: a chief terrorist keeps the name of a Turkish Pasha and the Janissaries (the Royal Guard of the Ottoman Empire) are a bunch of unkempt caricaturesque talibans (why not Al Qaeda...).
Yes, this is what happened in Buenos Aires Lírica´s "renovated" view of Mozart´s opera. Mind you, there are two basic ways of showing a bad concept: miserable, mediocre realisation, or brilliant execution of a shameful travesty . Between these black and white extremes, the whole range of greys in realisation may appear, according to the money, taste and imagination of the perpetrators (traitors?).
Pablo Maritano is a young producer who, along with his iconoclasm, is capable of witty moments that can be funny if you accept the basic conceptual travesty. Although in fact it seems that the basic idea comes from the President of BAL, Frank Marmorek, for the advance notices carry no statement by Maritano. The BAL simply says that as the original libretto is bad, they have decided to commission a new libretto for the spoken parts. As you may remember, "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" is a Singspiel, with sung and spoken fragments. The sung bits are intact in music and text, Gonzalo Demaría´s new libretto only concerns the spoken parliaments that connect the musical ones. One good point: although I assume that he originally wrote in Spanish, it is translated into German, so at least we don´t have a bilingual clash. Another: the text is succinct and meshes well into the following music. And the producer, although hampered by a mostly absurd text, gave some pep to the action.
The Turkish subject was a delicate one in the Vienna of 1782, when "Entführung..." was premiered as part of an intention by Emperor Joseph II to impose the Singspiel as an alternative to the predominant Italian opera. Why "delicate"? Well, the Turks had besieged Vienna in 1683, the most expansionist moment of the Empire; they fortunately failed to take it. In Mozart´s time the Turks were no more than a bad memory and to make fun of them was "in". There were further examples later on, as Rossini´s "Il Turco in Italia" proves, although there were also "serious" operas about them, as the same Rossini´s "Maometto II". Nevertheless, the original libretto by Gottlob Stephanie gives us two sides: the Pasha is noble and generous, the spoof is about Osmin. "Turkish" music was also trendy, and it appears both in the Overture and the Janissaries´ Chorus: cymbals, fast tempi and marked rhythms. By the way, Mozart wrote another Singspiel of Turkish ambience, "Zaide" (1779), unfinished but viable, rarely done nowadays (it would be interesting to offer it).
The composer for "Entführung" wrote exceedingly difficult music of very ample range, for he had great singers; to find the right voices is quite a tall order, and I´m afraid several didn´t fit the bill in this case (this opera has been offered elsewhere in these last five years: Colón and Roma; those casts were better but still not satisfying). I would single out two artists: the veteran Dutch Harry Peeters (debut) maybe short in volume but he is a savvy actor and musician who showed convincing professionalism in the deep bass role of the grotesque Osmin. And Patricio Oliveira sang with fortitude his big aria as Pedrillo (here a barman...) as well as being a funny character. In his first big part Iván Maier as Belmonte sounded rigid, his voice lacking in harmonics, though as the opera went on it tended to round out. Hernán Iturralde, a baritone, took the spoken part of the Pasha with excessive parsimony, perhaps following Maritano´s marking.
The ladies were below the challenge, although Marisa Pavón (Konstanze) solved well some parts; but in a lot she sounded white and sliding, by no means the full lyrical voice capable of florid phrases. And Constanza Castillo as Blondie (first big part) showed a very marked vibrato; I suppose it isn´t her fault that her acting was exceedingly "vamp".
The Orchestra under Pedro-Pablo Prudencio (Chilean) sounded small and lacked precision in the initial minutes; later on it recovered somewhat, but the phrasing was mostly flat. The Choir under Juan Casasbellas was alright (poor guys having to play cartoon talibans...). For the record, the "functional" stage designs were by Andrea Mercado, the costumes, by Sofia Di Nunzio, and the lighting by José Luis Fiorruccio.
For Buenos Aires Herald