The Abduction from the Seraglio

It’s been an unusually long time since I last went to the Opera, but now the spring season of Welsh National Opera has finally arrived I couldn’t resist the chance last night to see their brand new and wonderfully entertaining production of The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart. It was also nice to be accompanied on this occasion by fellow astrologists Ed and Haley, who I hope enjoyed the show as much as I did.

I was particularly glad to see this on the schedule for this season because it’s an Opera I haven’t seen staged before and didn’t know very much about. Mozart composed the music for  it in 1781, when he was at the ripe old age of 25 , to a libretto in German and with the title Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The WNO production is sung in the original language, which is the way I like it.

Like  The Magic Flute, which Mozart wrote about a decade later, The Abduction is a singspiel rather than an opera, in that the recitative is spoken rather than sung. The music is not through-composed as you find in a true opera, but a series of set-piece arias, duets, trios and quartets. Still, Mozart was pretty good at those. It’s also, in case you hadn’t realised, like the Magic Flute, a comedy which Mozart was also pretty good at!

The plot, such as it is, concerns the hero Belmonte’s search for his beloved Konstanze, her servant Blonde and his own servant Pedrillo, who have been captured by the Turk Pasha Selim who hopes to persuade Konstanze to join the harem inside his Seraglio. The Pasha’s heavy, Osmin, acts as bouncer, keeping Belmonte from getting into the place and releasing the captives but eventually, Pedrillo tricks Osmin into drinking some drugged wine; while he’s asleep the lovers are re-united. However, the attempt by Belmonte and Pedrillo to help  Konstanze and Blonde escape is botched and they are captured by Pasha Selim and his guards. Contrary to all expectations, however, the Pasha doesn’t take his revenge, but allows them to leave. Osmin flies into a rage and suffers some sort of splenetic seizure. The Opera ends with the others celebrating their freedom, while Pasha Selim consoles himself with his other wives and a hookah.

It’s admittedly a bit thin, even by the standards of comic opera but, right from the fabulous overture, the music is lovely and there’s a great deal of good-humoured fun, especially during the Pasha’s attempt to shower Konstanze with gifts of jewelry, frocks and shoes, in Act 2, and the abduction itself, in Act 3, which is bungled in appropriately hilarious fashion.

Belmonte was played by Robin Tritschler, who has a tenor voice of exceptional clarity and beauty and who invested his role with an engaging wide-eyed innocence. Petros Magoulas played the psychopathic Osmin for laughs and provided the performance with some of its funniest moments. Pedrillo was played by local boy Wynne Evans and Blonde was Claire Ormshaw; both were excellent, musically and comedically. Pasha Selim was also very well played by Simon Thorpe. The Pasha has to appear a bit frightening early on, so that his later magnanimity comes as a surprise; this he did very well. The only weak point I felt was Lisette Oropesa as the heroine Konstanze. She didn’t sing at all well in Act I, perhaps owing to first-night nerves,  but seemed to settle down by Act 2 where she coped with the coloratura a lot better. Her acting, however, was extremely disappointing and, at times, downright embarassing. It wasn’t enough to spoil the production – at least not for me – but it was a shame, as a really good night could have been a truly superb one.

Finally I should mention that all the action is set on the Orient Express, circa 1920, with costumes and props of that period too. The scenery is cleverly designed so that it can be slid to and fro along the stage to reveal cabins either side of the main saloon at its centre. The whole thing looks wonderful and the mobile set also provided comic moments of its own, especially during the abduction scene when Pedrillo is accidentally left clinging to the outside of the train.

I was left wondering to some extent why this Opera isn’t better known. It’s probably because it  doesn’t have the subtlety of the famous da Ponte comedies, but the music is gorgeous especially in the passages for multiple voices, such as the quartet in Act II. In other passages the music  sounds a bit like a parts of the Magic Flute. In many ways I think you can see this piece as Mozart on his way to perfecting the style he would achieve in these works. It’s pretty good, but perhaps doomed to lie in the shadow of his later masterpieces.

All in all, a great night out. There’s only one other performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Cardiff (next Saturday, 20th February) and then it goes on the road. I’m not sure there are any tickets remaining for next week:  if there are, it’s well worth seeing but if not then all is not lost – it’s likely this will be in the WNO repertoire for some time to come.

18 Responses to “The Abduction from the Seraglio”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    Although I’m sure all his performances in the opera house have been excellent, I suspect Wynne Evans is probably better known these days for his role in the irritating series of televisions adverts for the company Go Compare.

    Not a lot of people know that …

    • telescoper Says:


      I’m glad I didn’t know that before the performance. I might have been tempted to climb on stage and throttle him. Although our seats were right at the front I would have had to jump the orchestra pit.

      Anyway, he was good. In good voice and very funny, in a nice role.


  2. I saw it in the Munich Staatsoper some years ago – the set consisted of a few sofas flying about on wires and some huge coloured sheets, considering which it worked rather well. I suspect it’s rarely performed because almost all the vocal parts are very difficult and there is nothing for the usual crop of wobbly ‘lyric’ mezzos and bellowing baritones.

  3. telescoper Says:

    I may have been a bit harsh on Konstanze because I think she has a particularly difficult role to sing. It must be hard to find someone who can cope with the vocal demands and act at the same time.

    Osmin has to reach some very low notes too, which obviously tested him to the limit. I think there’s a low D in there somewhere.

    Belmonte is a part for a real tenor too, rather than one of the many pseudotenors that get away with murder on the Opera stage. Tritschler’s voice was a revelation, light and agile, slightly reminiscent of Flores.

  4. telescoper Says:


    I think the singspiel is similar to a modern musical drama, but the word is reserved for specifically German-language works, and usually for older works at that. . It was the forerunner of the light 19th century operetta and also the later German romantic opera of Wagner and Strauss. It also – as the Magic Flute makes clear – has a close relation to the form that became, in England anyway, the pantomime.

    As well as the language, a singspiel tends to be performed in a much more stylised way than a modern musical wherein the spoken words are performed in a way that attempts to be naturalistic.


  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ve recently bought Haendel’s Saul (Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, magnificent) and I don’t recall any spoken dialogue in that.

    Is any of the film of West Side Story spoken?


    • Anton,

      Saul is an oratorio rather than an opera, isn’t it? I mean it’s not staged (usually).

      If I remember correctly the dialogue in West Side Story is all spoken, although it is still one of the most operatic musicals.

      These divisions are in any case not really important.


  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: You are presumably right that Saul is an oratorio. It amkes little difference to me because when I go to the opera I regard it principally (although not exclusively) as a concert.

    • telescoper Says:

      To confuse matters further, some operas are done unstaged, in concert form, and some oratorios are staged (like ENO’s Messiah last year)…

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ve been to a concert performance of Tristan und Isolde, but I’ve never heard of a staged oratorio. What did ENO do?

    • telescoper Says:


      I didn’t actually see it, although I was intrigued enough to have gone to it had I still been living in London. You can find reviews of it around the net, e.g. here. It’s hard to tell without having been there, but it sounds a strange idea…


  8. Can I remember listening to the E.N.O.’s “staged” production of Messiah on the radio? Do I remember a rather odd unfocussed performance lacking the greatness we normally expect? It might have been a spectacle in the theatre, but it didn’t quite work as an audio-only event.

    • Bryn

      I didn’t hear it, but you may be right. The review I linked to in a previous comment complained that the singing wasn’t good. I’m definitely a traditionalist when it comes to Messiah and don’t really like the thought of it being messed with. I always want to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus, like I did when I was a little boy at the City Hall in Newcastle.


  9. It’s not clear to me how a “staged” performance of Messiah could cope with “ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.”

    That would require quite a feat with the scenery …

  10. Ironing is normal in Beethoven’s Fidelio (which incidentally I have seen in a concert performance which didn’t have an ironing board). That says something about Beethoven: breaking conventions by introducing mundane domestic events alongside the profound. Perhaps Wagner’s Ring Cycle would have been better with several ironing boards.

  11. […] aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I’ve actually reviwed the whole Opera (was that really 12 years ago?) and wrote then (about the […]

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