Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (“Abduction From the Seraglio”) is being revived at the Metropolitan Opera under the able conducting of James Levine. The ovations at the start of each act were an expression of appreciation for his long service as the Met’s music director. He is also credited with bringing this opera back in the company’s repertoire, since it was not performed at the Met from 1946 until 1979.
This is a singspiel opera, meaning that there is spoken German dialogue between the musical numbers. The subject is one that was common in the late 18th century: Western women in Turkish captivity. Though there are references in the libretto to torture, forced sex, and other atrocities, the tone is comic and the score is captivating, with comic arias as well as those revealing a depth of feeling.
When the opera begins in Turkey, Konstanze, a Spanish woman; Blondchen, her English maid; and Pedrillo, the servant of Konstanze’s fiancé, Belmonte, are prisoners. They had been captured by pirates and sold to Pasha Selim.
Blondchen has been given to his overseer Osmin by the pasha, but the maid rejects his advances, just as Konstanze refuses the pasha’s expressions of love.
Belmonte arrives in the hopes of managing the escape of his beloved. He runs into Osmin but makes the mistake of mentioning Pedrillo, who is serving as gardener but whom Osmin knows is his rival for Blondchen’s affections.
Pedrillo later encounters Belmonte and they come up with a plan to escape with the women. In a scene involving Konstanze and the pasha, she again turns him down, explaining that she is still in love with her fiancé. Though Pasha Selim erupts at one point, threatening to use force, he relents.
The wily Pedrillo introduces Belmonte as a talented architect to the pasha.
Act 2 starts with Blondchen putting Osmin in his place after he threatens her, telling him that European women expect to be treated well. Pedrillo tells Blondchen of the escape plan, which involves getting Osmin drunk so that the lovers can get away.
Pedrillo doesn’t have much trouble convincing the overseer to violate his religion by drinking wine.
In the third act, Belmonte places a ladder leading to the women’s window and serenades them (the signal for the escape). Unfortunately, Osmin wakes up and foils the plot, bringing the four lovers before the pasha.
Belmonte tries to bargain with the pasha by promising a ransom from his rich family, the Lostados. Selim reveals that Belmonte’s father is his mortal enemy, who was responsible for the pasha’s exile from his native country. He asks the young man what his father would do if the situation were reversed. Belmonte answers that Selim’s son would expect the worst.
The humane pasha then announces that he will do the opposite of what is expected and frees the lovers to return to their homeland. Would any Hollywood movie nowadays end with such a twist?
The two sets of lovers are written for two coloratura sopranos and two tenors. Osmin is a bass and the pasha is a non-singing role.
As the feisty Blondchen, Kathleen Kim is ideally cast. Her singing is lovely, her acting quite funny, and the production exploits the physical contrast between the petite soprano and the immense bass playing Osmin, Hans-Peter König, whose singing is also a pleasure.
As Belmonte, Paul Appleby revealed himself to be an ideal Mozart tenor. And his Pedrillo, Brenton Ryan (also an American tenor), is making a confident Met debut.
The vocal standout of the cast is Albina Shagimuratova’s Konstanze, who has the most memorable music and makes the most of it.
The only disappointment is the bland performance of Matthias von Stegmann in the non-singing role of Pasha Selim. Though his character goes through a variety of emotions, from expressions of love to threats of torture, the actor was successful in conveying the pasha’s humanity but none of the extremes.
The 1979, John Dexter production holds up quite well. Stage director Stephen Pickover deserves credit for the humorous touches.
‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail’
Metropolitan Opera House
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
Tickets: 212-362-6000 or MetOpera.org
Running Time: 3 hours, 19 minutes
Closes: May 7
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.