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Mozart in Turkey
featuring the opera
Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Belmonte -- Paul Groves
Konstanze -- Yelda Kodalli
Blonde -- Desiree Rancatore
Pedrillo -- Lynton Atkinson
Osmin -- Peter Rose
Pasha Selim -- Oliver Tobias
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Choir/Sir Charles Mackerras
Opera directed & filmed by Elijah Moshinsky
Film produced and directed by Mick Czaky
[88 mins; documentary 24 mins, highlights 64 mins]
OpusArte DVD OA 0891

This BBC/opusarte co-production hybrid is a complicated and ingenious concept which I found irritating initially but gradually warmed to, and admired it by the end.

It is a film about making a film of Die Entführung aus dem Serail (not complete) on location in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Taken on its own terms it has quite a lot to offer, though perhaps not to readers of Musical Pointers, who are likely to be familiar with the opera's background and the enthusiasm for Turkish exotica in Mozart's Vienna. We see a real Janissary band play, and there are extras who look on uncomprehendingly whilst Mozart's music is being sung. It is great being guided around the Harem of Istanbul's gorgeous Topkapi Palace in the company of Mozart's characters.

Elijah Moshinsky narrates the documentary and introduces, for example, a lady who had lived in a harem and explains how plausible it would be for Konstanze to have come to love her Pasha, who would have lavished her with finery. Moshinsky emphasises the importance of the Enightenment and makes his Kostanze signify affection towards her captor before departing reunited with her lover. We watch preparations for filming, see tracking shots, hear instructions to 'put on the tape' for the dubbing miming, and also (confusingly) see a microphone - what is it for?

Meanwhile Sir Charles MacKerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are firmly based in Dundee, where their Telarc CD of the soundtrack, from which the filmed highlights were taken, was recorded. This is generally well sung (though the pretty Turkish soprano Yelda Kodalli is found wanting as Konstanze) and safe under the direction of a renowned Mozart specialist (Telarc CD-80544).

It is all rather confusing, nowhere more so than when attempting to navigate the DVD. Subtitles if selected are imposed over the English-language documentary sections as well as the German-language opera scenes. Track numbers are all but invisible, printed in brown on a darker brown background; the designers of Stream Digital Media have a lot to answer for!

Is there a complete filming of the opera by this team waiting in the wings for possible later release?

Location filming of opera will continue to appeal, but is difficult to bring off. One that I enjoyed, though with reservations, is Turandot in Beijing. They may bring a few viewers to venture into the theatre, where this artificial entertainment has its real life.

This film about Die Entführung aus dem Serail will certainly alert newcomers towards hidden depths in what first seems a simple singspiel, after which you should be ready to embark upon the complexities of Hans Neuenfels' double-cast version at Stuttgart, which is inexhaustibly rewarding.

 

© Peter Grahame Woolf