Aerospace Entführung from Salzburg

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

First untraditional stagings, then untraditional locales—floating stages, armories, overlooking Sydney Harbor. How about Opera in the Hindenburg? We have got to make opera palatable to a younger audience! But I digress, if only vaguely. And I am being an old fogey, but only vaguely.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail is about true love, mis-directed love, revenge, forgiveness, and the treatment of women as chattel, and its Turkish setting is not only exotic (and echoed, at times, in the music), but adds to its crucial misunderstanding of the clash between eastern and western cultures, which sometimes is amusing, other times brutal. What better place to stage it than in Salzburg Airport’s gigantic Hangar 7, which doubles as an airplane museum? Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?

Taking place in 10 (or so) separate spaces, there’s lots of movement by singers, staff, and audience, all tracked by 16 cameras—under a fantastic-looking 380 tons of curved glass and 1200 tons of steel filled with, yes, airplanes, as well as jeeps and helicopters, all of which has been turned by director Adrian Marthaler into a modern, haute couture fashion house.

Bassa Selim is a high-powered, short-tempered, jet-setting fashion designer who oversees a room full of seamstresses and lackeys as well as our party of soloists: Blonde, a make-up artist who also assists the dressmakers; Pedrillo, a bartender and general go-fer; Osmin, a type of overseer/disciplinarian who assists at photo shoots and makes certain everyone is kept in line; and Belmonte, who is hoping to get hired as a parfumier while winning back his estranged girlfriend. That girlfriend is Konstanze, a regular pretty girl and the center of our—and Bassa Selim’s—attention, who has become intoxicated by and wishes to be a part of the fashion scene. Too late she realizes that she’s embroiled by a control freak who loves her and, moreover, presumes that he owns her.

The well-dressed audience, some with champagne glasses in hand, follows the action of the singers as they move from catwalk to styling room to airplane to hair salon, to cafés and bars, becoming part of the action. It’s very busy. The orchestra is in another hangar altogether, and for some reason Belmonte sings his third-act aria, “Ich baue ganz”, in front of the orchestra, as if giving a concert. The singers wear earpieces and sing into face microphones. In other words, this “experiment” is a technical marvel, put together specifically for the small screen, a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless all opera companies begin using stadiums, et al, and audiences like taking long walks while the show is going on) that has now been documented. Felix Breisach, the director for TV, is to be congratulated—it’s quite a feat.

Viennese fashion designer Lena Hoschek’s designs are stunning—runway-worthy (and yes, there’s a runway that is not for airplanes) for the women and elegant for the men, and provide eye candy. A press release says that her work is “a mix of urban retro-chic and classical rural attire, [and it] combines tradition with modernity,” and if you think they’re going to get an argument out of me, you’re wrong. Apparently-famous hairdressers Mario Krankl and Martin Moser are credited.

Does it capture the essence of Mozart? Well, the fashion world is cut-throat and corrupt, as was, apparently, 18th-century Turkey, and the concept of women-as-property and the correlation between despots, whether they be egocentric fashion designers or totalitarian Muslim rulers is made clear. But aside from a bit of silliness having to do with Pedrillo’s lackadaisical attitude and Osmin’s tying the hero and heroine together and leading them as on a leash, there’s little wit here, and almost less charm.

The musical performances (remember them?) are quite good. The career of Javier Camarena, since this performance was recorded, has taken flight: a DVD of his marvelous Le Comte Ory from Zurich has been released and he did double duty at the Met last season as Elvino in La sonnambula and Ramiro in La Cenerentola to grand acclaim. His Belmonte for the most part is beautifully sung: the tone is handsome, the coloratura in “Ich baue ganz” cleaner than most, the sincerity of delivery of the text on a very high level. He seems hampered by the production, however—he is singing Mozart’s setting and acting something else, as are the others, but he seems ill at ease. (I think I may have mistaken some of his comic acting as awkwardness, but I might be wrong.)

Not so Desirée Rancatore’s Konstanze: she falls into the concept marvelously, and after some vocal uncertainty in Act 1 goes on to give a fine performance as a put-upon innocent in a situation that is both intolerable and inescapable. Rebecca Nelson’s Blonde is the usual perky-peppy, high-flying type, but seems more self-assured than Blondes normally do in the Turkish setting. Thomas Ebenstein’s Pedrillo is terrific to watch and most of his music is well done. However, the first several measures of his big aria, “Frisch sum Kampfe!”, are very sharp—perhaps one of the problems of having the orchestra a hangar away? Who knows?

Kurt Rydl’s charmingly over-acted Osmin is clearly psychotic and wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a fashion house, and his voice has developed a serious wobble on sustained notes (he is in his late 60s), but he certainly has the measure of the part. Tobias Moretti, in the speaking (and yelling) part of Selim, is quite terrifying—a real tyrant, albeit an elegantly dressed one. There are no complaints to be made about Hans Graf’s conducting or the fine playing and singing of the Salzburg forces.

Sound and picture are remarkable, especially given the hurdles. As suggested, this is impressive, new, exciting, easy to watch. In its own way, it is also distracting: I suspect that we’ll never again see an opera production, per se, that draws such attention to itself; it makes Zeffirelli look minimalist and Robert Wilson look traditional. I don’t for a minute think that if we don’t embrace productions like this then opera will wilt on the vine and die, but others may disagree.

The Karl Böhm-led DG DVD is still marvelous (Gruberova and Talvela are out of this world); Decca’s, directed by Stefan Herheim and led by Ivor Bolton, is a disgrace; Kurt Moll’s Osmin walks away with Covent Garden’s quite good show under Solti (Kultur); the untraditional (Arabic music is added to the score) 1997 Salzburg production (hello, Mr Mortier!) under Mark Minkowski has some fine singing by Paul Groves as Belmonte to recommend it. And this new one has airplanes and face-microphones. Very The Matrix.



Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Gruberova, Talvela/Böhm (DG)

  • Desirée Rancatore, Rebecca Nelsen (soprano); Javier Camarena, Thomas Ebenstein (tenor); Kurt Rydl (bass); Tobias Moretti (actor)
  • Graf, Hans (conductor)
  • Camerata Salzburg

Share This Review: