This is an opera to attend well-prepared. I would highly recommend attending Brian McMillan’s pre-opera talk and reading the director’s notes beforehand. They are available online here. Understanding that it is not a “romp of a comedy” will help to make the experience one that provokes thoughtful reflection on issues of masculine dominance, the divine feminine, race relations, religious tolerance, love and redemption. The COC is to be commended for its courage to step outside the box once again and to mount such a provocative production.
With productions such as this Seraglio it is no wonder that the New York Times is calling the COC "one of the most interesting opera houses in North America". After ten years at the helm, General Director Alexander Neef has added to his responsibilities this week by accepting the post of Artistic Director of the Santa Fe Opera.
Yesterday was the second of seven performances. The Abduction From The Seraglio continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on February 13, 16, 18, 22 and 24.
(l-r) Jane Archibald as Konstanze, Mauro Peter as Belmonte, Owen McCausland as Pedrillo and Claire de Sévigné as Blonde in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2018. Photo: Michael Cooper
Without compromising the integrity of Mozart’s score, Mouawad changed dialogue and added a prologue. The curtain lifted exposing a celebration for the return of the captives. All but the two previously captive women joined in on a game of “Tête de turc”, hammering on the head of a Turkish likeness. The two women, Konstanze (Jane Archibald) and Blonde (Claire de Sévigné), thus become the focus of the revised plot. After two years of living in the harem of Bassa Selim (Raphael Weinstock) and his servant/guard Osmin (Goran Jurić), the two women demand to be treated with respect and understanding instead of being the subjects of masculine control and judgement. The remainder of the opera was a flashback explaining the women’s ambivalence toward their European love interests, Belmonte (Mauro Peter) and Pedrillo (Owen McCausland).
Mouawad's creative approach to the score first came to life at Opéra de Lyon in the wake of the 2015 Paris bombings in a climate of Islamophobia. By suggesting that there is "something worth loving" in eastern culture, he challenged the notion of a patriarchal society and European male supremacy.
Musically, the opera was a wonderful experience. Each of the lead singers was outstanding. Mozart wrote impossibly difficult arias for his singers. Soprano Jane Archibald was especially stunning in her nearly ten minute long aria “Martern aller Arten”. The ensemble singing was delicious. Conductor Johannes Debus and The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra created a fine balance, playing with abundant energy but without overpowering the singers. The orchestra was at times a raucous Janissary band and at others a small chamber music ensemble. There were times I was tempted to listen to the sumptuous music with eyes closed.
The minimalist sets by Emmanuel Clolus combined with the lighting by Eric Champoux to create powerful symbolism. Was the sphere that gradually came into view the moon, the sun, the world…or a phallic symbol? With superb lighting, it morphed throughout the opera until it was finally revealed as a cage holding the concubines and then a prison for the captives. Costumes by Emmanuelle Thomas were lavishly colourful for the European aristocrats and contrastingly plain for the Bassa Selim, Blonde and the harem. The Jannisary guards appeared to be sexless eunuchs with chalky makeup, shaved heads and grey pants.
Review by Dave Richards
Toronto ON February 11th 2018
Canadian Opera Company’s Abduction from the Seraglio sends provocative messages in a stunningly original new production!
Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Mauro Peter as Belmonte in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2018.
Photo: Michael Cooper
(top, l-r) Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Claire de Sévigné as Blonde; (bottom, l-r) Owen McCausland as Pedrillo and Peter Mauro as Belmonte in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2018. Photo: Michael Cooper
Mauro Peter as Belmonte (centre) in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2018. Photo: Michael Cooper
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After forty years, the Canadian Opera Company has finally once again mounted Mozart’s early masterpiece, The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Enttführung aus dem Serail). This is no ordinary production. It is a far cry from the “romp of a comedy, romance and suspense” that described the LA Opera production of a year ago. This new co-production with Opéra de Lyon is a serious attempt at going beyond the stereotypes and caricatures to find substance in the story to speak for today’s audience. I doubt that Mozart’s singspiel has ever taken on the serious themes found within Director Wajdi Mouawad’s interpretation. For the discerning person, this courageous opera had plenty of food for thought.
The opera had just enough humour to provide relief from the oppressive issues contained in the drama. Claire de Sévignéas Blonde was hilarious in his bathtub scene and in the drunken scene along with Owen McCausland as Pedrillo. Revival Director Valérie Nѐgre elicited convincing acting out of each of the principals. This was no 'stand and sing' opera. The drama was front and centre from beginning to end.