Clemency on the Orient Express
Marvelous music and a scintillating staging make Mozart's "Abduction" a winner.
By LARRY FUCHSBERG, Special to the Star Tribune
November 3, 2008
Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782) is 18th-century fluff, hardly comparable to "Figaro" or "The Magic Flute." But fluffiness, in this case, precludes neither marvelous music nor a last-act reversal still worth pondering. (Seraglio is simply the Italian for harem; the plain English translation sounded too risqué to Victorian ears, and the bowdlerization has stuck.)
Co-produced with five other companies, Minnesota Opera's "Abduction" -- which isn't, strictly speaking, an opera but rather a Singspiel, in which sung numbers alternate with spoken dialogue -- is not always persuasive in its balance of earnestness and farce. But it argues strongly for the work's stageworthiness, offering delights both musical and visual -- an agreeable elixir for a fraught week.
The plot is straightforward, as such things go. The Turkish pasha Selim has acquired Konstanze (whom he fancies), her maid Blonde and her fiancé's valet Pedrillo (who loves Blonde) from the pirates who captured them. Despite the wary Osmin (keeper of the pasha's harem), Belmonte, Konstanze's intended, insinuates himself into the palace, intending to rescue her. The escape is foiled, leading to the discovery that Belmonte is the son of Selim's worst enemy, yet the pasha -- a speaking role, although his is the voice of true humanity -- renounces revenge and frees the lovers. Thus it is the supposedly tyrannical Muslim who, in the end, espouses "western," Enlightenment values.
James Robinson's scintillating staging, newly realized by director Elise Sandell, shifts the action to the 1920s and loads it aboard the westbound (Istanbul-to-Paris) Orient Express. This is no more plausible than it needs to be -- for starters, pashas and harems were decidedly passé in '20s Turkey -- but it recharges "Abduction," even while confining the singers to a relatively narrow sliver of stage. Set designer Allen Moyer's cutaway railway carriages are first-class; Anna Oliver's costumes exude a Deco poshness.