Abduction from the Seraglio, BBC Proms, Prom 38, Albert Hall, RAH, 14 August 2015Posted on 15 August 2015
When the performance began I wondered whether Glyndebourne had made the right decision in bringing Seraglio to the Proms, as opposed to one of their other new productions such as Donizetti’s Poliuto or Handel’s Saul, which would have sounded well in the Albert Hall.
Mozart’s Seraglio, performed in Glyndebourne under its original title Die Entführung aus dem Serail, is a German Singspiel more suited to the theatre than the concert hall, and at the start it seemed that the mixture of singing and spoken dialogue would lose traction without the acoustic resonances of the Glyndebourne stage set. Yet although the singing seemed somewhat weak in the early scenes it improved greatly as the evening progressed, particularly with the entrance of Tobias Kehrer in the bass role of Osmin, the dangerous servant whose noxious attitudes threaten physical punishment and even death to the four outsiders.
The story is that Pasha Selim, a Christian who converted to Islam, has purchased three new slaves for his country estate, the Lady Konstanze, her servant Blonde and Blonde’s lover Pedrillo, servant to the noble Belmonte, who intends to abduct his beloved Konstanze plus the other two. When the abduction fails and the four are caught, it turns out that Belmonte’s father is the Pasha’s most hated enemy. Yet in a final act of astonishing benevolence the Pasha releases all four, leaving his servant Osmin spluttering with rage at the tortures that suddenly escape his grasp.
Tobias Kehrer’s Osmin was the star of the show at Glyndebourne, and here too where he received cheers for his nastily eager Act III aria O, wie will ich triumphieren, and since opening night some of the other performances seem to have taken on greater depth in acting and singing, notably the superbly theatrical Pedrillo of Brendan Patrick Gunnell and the beautifully sung Konstanze of Sally Matthews. Mari Eriksmoen was once again excellent as Blonde, as was Franck Saurel with his curiously foreign accent in the spoken role of the Pasha, and Edgaras Montvidas came over well after a slightly weak start, with a fine aria just before the planned abduction.
Glyndebourne very cleverly recreated their super production on the Albert Hall stage with the performers in costume using the large spaces behind and in front of the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, joyously conducted by Robin Ticciati. Masses of servants entered at appropriate moments, and the wonderful kitchen scene at the start of Act II was carried over with the throwing of real eggs and plates, albeit it tin ones rather than real crockery that could splinter and hit the orchestra. The business with the ladder for the final abduction was very wittily handled, and Konstanze’s skipping down the steps of the orchestra rather than the ladder produced a great laugh.
That Glyndebourne created such fun in the Albert Hall won me over. Making their biggest sell-out of the summer available to the Proms audience in London was exactly the right decision.