Minnesota Opera's "Abduction" puts joy in the journey
By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Pioneer Press
Good comedy moves. Sure, some laughs come from things that are slow and measured, but, if you have a story that depends upon tricks and twists, it's best to have it hurtle forward like an express train.
So, it's appropriate that the Minnesota Opera's production of "The Abduction from the Seraglio" takes place aboard a 1920s train bound from Istanbul to Paris. Making Mozart's opera an itinerant tale lends an extra element of danger and urgency to the action. Saturday's opening performance at St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts proved a delightful trip, appropriately reverent of the composer's musical gifts, yet bubbling with an effervescent sense of fun.
When you learn that a "seraglio" is a Turkish harem, the title offers you the gist of this opera's plot. Belmonte is attempting to spring his love, Konstanze, from her imprisonment in a harem, with assistance from their servants, Pedrillo and Blonde.
It's a relatively compact story, played out on an intimate set. The curtain only rises about 15 feet above the stage, revealing the interiors of passenger cars.
This is regarded as the work with which Mozart hit his operatic stride. And his brilliance shows through in the lovely, longing arias of Constanze and Belmonte, as well as the complex quartets, its musical extremes demanding much from the five principals.
As Konstanze, soprano Jennifer Casey Cabot must dance about on a musical high wire, hitting notes that approach stratospheric heights.
She did so sublimely Saturday, delivering each aria with supple smoothness and weighty grief. Michael Colvin complements her well as a Belmonte with passion yet gentleness.
While the towering Harold Wilson weaves a rich characterization as the villainous Osmin, Mozart dealt him a tough hand. The composer expanded this role to accommodate the talents of a renowned bass with a reportedly thunderous low end to his range, but Wilson's volume level sometimes plunged when the notes did. The most powerful voice in the production may belong to Kathleen Kim, who shone brightly on the musical gems given to Blonde.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's expertise with Mozart pours forth from the pit. And director Elise Sandell clearly understands that this kind of comedy works best when the stage business is particularly busy. Mozart's rhythms are accented in all sorts of clever ways, helping make this production a very enjoyable journey.
Rob Hubbard is an associate producer for American Public Media's "Performance Today."
What: The Minnesota Opera production of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio"
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
Call: 612-333-6669 or visit mnopera.org