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W A Mozart: Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail -
Catherine Naglestad, Roland Bracht, Matthias Klink, Heinz Gohrig, Roland Bracht, Johannes Terne etc
Chorus and Orchestra of the Staatsoper Stuttgart/ Lothar Zagrosek, Conductor
From the Staatsoper Stuttgart

Arthaus DVD 100179 [1998 - 16:9 - 150 min]

Having struggled with Hans Neuenfels' Die Fledermaus at Salzburg (and disagreed amongst ouselves), we returned with renewed interest to his Die Enfuhrung of 1998. This is one of the most intriguing and puzzling rethinkings of a superficially simple singspiel that you could imagine. It is a stock tale of true love's vicissitudes, with separations, imprisonment and sexual intimidation in a harem, foiled escape, and eventual happy ending with the despotic Pasha reformed and forgiving. Neuenfels complicates it in every conceivable way, yet remains faithful to its origins and to Mozart.

The most striking innovation is to represent the complexity of human emotions by doubling each of the singing characters with an actor to take charge of the spoken dialogue. Such sharing is in itself not a great innovation - the spoken parts of Mozart's German operas delivered by opera singers on stage can sometimes be heavy going.

Doubling is a resource quite often used by contemporary theatrical directors; examples coming to mind include Klaus Guth's Iphigenie en Tauride, which has masked doubles shadowing the protagonists. Marin's Coppelia has " - - an indoor fantasy with a bevy of scarlet dolls - a memorable image of fantasy overwhelming reality; disturbing, very imaginative - - ".

But Neuenfels goes farther, his doubles exploring the complexities and contradictions in all human actions. Their 'talking selves' demonstrate feelings and reactions of their own, often at odds with their singing partners. So, whilst towards the end Konstanze and Belmonte come to embrace the bliss of unity in facing death, their doubles and friends look on with mounting incredulity and fearfulness of the fates in store for them all. There are countless similar disjunctions, and another important dimension is that whilst Mozart cannot fail to invest his story and lead characters with genuine emotions (as happens even more remarkably with the couples in Cosi), Neuenfels repeatedly reminds us that we are in a theatre - the forgotten ladder is "the one we always use in this opera!", says Pedrillo. Sometimes actors and singers, dressed alike but with their own individualities, spar with one another, adding a further dimension to the drama. Belmonte comes out of role to direct the conductor to cue the orchestra for his first aria.

Pasha Selim and his entourage enter with a menacing display of severed heads (q.v. the 'comical' display of hanged corpses in Johan Strauss's Simplicius) but eventually he responds to the frustration of being a non-singer in opera by coming out of the frame, universalising the theme of clemency and rejection of revenge for past wrongs in perpetuity. He concludes the proceedings by addressing us directly and movingly with a poem by Morike. There is, however, no audience, no interval, no curtain calls and we found ourselves watching the credits, stunned into silence by the paradoxes which Neuenfeld's many layered interpretation pose.

So this Enfuhrung is a 'serious comedy', at the same time enormously amusing and inventive in countless details - a delight to watch, but with a dark, menacing Orientalist scenario, hanged and mutilated body parts reminding us not to take the rantings of the thuggish, tattoed Osmin lightly. His conversion to a cuddly figure under the influence of alcohol may not be enduring, but the Pasha's sudden volte face (he becomes a model for Mozart's Tito and Henze's Kurfürst von Brandenburg, who engineers the Prince of Homborg's last minute reprieve) brings about the ending which everyone, but no-one on stage, expects.

The lighting and camera work is especially notable, often placing characters against plain and dark backgrounds. The singers act as well as their actor partners and make a wonderful team, unfazed by close-up camera work which catches all expressions and reactions, e.g. "the double duet of reconciliation between Konstanze and Belmonte, Blonde and Pedrillo as they question each others' constancy not only brings a sublime quartet but a heart stopping scene of filmed opera as the camera catches the couples' feet moving toward one another as they embrace in an intimate dance" (Amazon). The singing is fine (yes, there may be better accounts of some individual arias on classic CD performances) and the orchestra is in the safe hands of Lothar Zagrosek; this DVD is one that we will long treasure in our Mozart collection.


© Peter Grahame Woolf