Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Abduction: Director's Cut

September 28, 2009

from Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Photo: Cory Weaver/SF Opera 2009

Saturday brought San Francisco Opera’s new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail or, as its more popularly known to the SF Opera marketing department, The Abduction from the Seraglio. Of course by “new” I mean new to Chicago last Spring and now appearing here in a co-production arrangement. Entführung is a difficult opera to do with its combination of broad comedy, spoken dialog, and 18th century exoticism. As usual, I found myself wanting a little more abduction and a little less seraglio during the evening, but it was by no means a waste. The production is one of those affairs from director Chas-Rader Shieber and designer David Zinn who seem omnipresent in the U.S. these days. I think I’ve decided that I prefer Zinn’s work to Rader-Shieber’s in that more often than not, the sets look fine but the action taking place within them seems far less compelling. This Entführung is set in a model of an 18th century theater complete with footlights, fire curtain and backdrops. The team cleverly avoids the play-within-a-play set up by not putting one in the production. However, it does raise the questions of why the action is taking place in a 18th century theater. I mean it looks lovely with great costumes and all, but the action is minimal besides the cast repeatedly jumping on and off the stage to the main stage below often for no rhyme or reason. It's an idea half-realized.

There are comic bits to be sure, especially from Blonde played expertly here by Anna Christy. But the laughs are few and far between and more often than not the cast is standing around looking for something to do. The vocalists were fine if not excellent. Matthew Polenzani sang Belmonte and Mary Dunleavy was Constanze. Both were pleasant enough but somewhat sloppy at the margins. Peter Rose was Osmin giving the most convincing performance of the evening although he doesn’t have the bottom notes for the part and his voice would periodically drop below audible in those passages.

My biggest complaint, though, is the whole flipping back and forth between German language for the music and English for the spoken passages. I find it distracting particularly when the English adaptation is as poor as this one was with its contemporary colloquialisms mixed with the “thou”s and “thee”s of somebody’s notion of speech from 200 years ago. It would be nice for a little consistency regardless of the overall direction. By all means if you’re worried about the language barrier, just sing the whole thing in English and be done with it. If not, leave it alone. It’s not like the audience is going to laugh at any of the lines of English dialog in this adaptation anyway. Still, this is Mozart and there is no doubt plenty of beautiful music, which conductor Cornelius Meister handled fleetly. The production continues through October 23.



I love to hear Polenzani sing; in fact, I adore his voice. But sometimes I wish he would have a little more ambition.
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