Archive for The Abduction from the Seraglio

Mozart, Ravel and Danielle de Niese

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2023 by telescoper

After last week’s magnificent concert I couldn’t miss another chance to see and hear Danielle de Niese in at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, again with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jaime Martin. It was another fascinating (and very full) programme.

For last week’s concert, the National Concert Hall was only about two-thirds full but this time it was packed. I think the glowing reviews of La Voix Humaine contributed to that, as did the round of media interviews Danielle de Niese has done since then contributed to the full house.

Danielle de Niese seems to like singing 20th century French music and the concert opened with Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel. This is a cycle of three songs which are settings of poems inspired by The Arabian Nights written by the pseudonymous poet Tristan Klingsor: Asie, La flûte enchantée, and L’Indifférent. Ravel was a real master of orchestration, and he creates a succession of exotic textures to complement the vocal lines. It’s not a long piece -altogether the three songs last about 15 minutes – but it covers a vast territory. There’s more than a nod to Debussy in this work too.

After that Danielle de Niese went off stage to change her frock, which was lime green for the Ravel, while the orchestra played the overture to the singspiel Die Entführung 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 plot):

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, 

The overture is great fun to listen to, and obviously also to play. Jaime Martin was beaming and bouncing up and down on the podium during the performance.

And then Danielle de Niese returned (this time in a lurid red dress) to sing another piece by Mozart. Exsultate, Jubilate is a piece for solo voice and orchestra usually described as a motet but technically really a cantata. There are three movements, marked Allegro, Andante and Allegro. It’s obviously a work,with a religious theme, and the central Andante movement does sound like it is sacred music, but the outer Allegro movements are very operatic, with demanding coloratura passages, especially in the final Hallelujah. I don’t usually associate such vocal acrobatics with religious music, but it’s certainly a very exuberant and joyful piece. Astonishingly, Mozart was just 17 years old when he wrote it.

That piece by Mozart presented very different challenges to the soloist, Danielle de Niese but she showed herself to be a very accomplished performer in this too. With that her two-week residence in Dublin came to an end. She was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers and a standing ovation before we headed off to the bar for the interval.

After the wine break the National Symphony Orchestra was joined by the National Symphony Chorus for complete performance of the music to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. As is the case with Stravinsky’s Firebird, music from this ballet is often played in the form of a suite or, in the case of this ballet, two suites, but I have to say the whole is much greater than the sum of the suites and this work has become one of my favourite pieces to hear live. It’s a gloriously sensual and dramatic work, again brilliantly orchestrated, full of vibrant colours and lush textures, and even more wonderful when accompanied by the wordless singing of the massed ranks of the National Symphony Chorus. The score lasts a good hour, but that time seemed to flash by in this performance which was extremely well received by a very appreciative audience.

This was a very full programme and I had to leave during the applause to make sure I got back to Pearse station in time to catch the train back to Maynooth. I’m not as quick on my pins as I used to be. I arrived at Pearse with about five minutes to spare only to find that the train was five minutes late so I didn’t have rushed.

I have to congratulate whoever is doing the programming for these NSO concerts at the NCH. The last few have been excellent, and next week’s recipe of Ives, Beethoven and Sibelius looks great too!

The Abduction from the Seraglio

Posted in Opera with tags , , , on February 14, 2010 by telescoper

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.