The Abduction From The Seraglio, Grand Theatre, Leeds
Thursday 04 June 2009
In creating a new "book" for Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio Tim Hopkins and Nicholas Ridout have liberally fleshed out the original narrative. By putting words into the mouth of the mute servant of Pasha Selim, the story is narrated, the characters' situations and feelings explained and the dramatic action moved on. The intention was surely to make everything clearer, but in watering down the conventional characteristics, and changing the characters' relationships, the onstage chemistry is crucially altered. It plays down the psychological situation in a work marked by contrasts of class and culture.
Throughout Hopkins's production (he has also designed the sets) Mozart's music is preserved intact. But a fragmented fusion of theatrical elements – including video projections and animation – crowd the split-level stage. Images of varying scale and perspective stand out from a chic wallpaper of traditional Ottoman tulip design, while tiny whizzing bulldozers, skyscrapers, miniature plinths supporting Gormley-like figurettes and a mix of period costumes are thrown somewhat randomly into the mix. It's all strikingly lit and presented with voguish attention to detail. Some of it is enjoyable, especially the gun-toting panda who eats leaves, and shoots at close range, but some of the comic effects are heavy-handed.
But the vocal performances are strong and resilient, Clive Bayley's booming bottom D as Osmin expressing far more about his evil thoughts and obsessions than his woolly stage persona. Kate Valentine, whose feelings for Martin Hyder's nice-guy Pasha take her into ambiguous territory, has an instinct for the shape of Mozart's lines and the suppleness of technique to blossom warmly in the role of Constanze. Allan Clayton makes an ardent and accomplished Belmonte, while Nicholas Sharratt is an appealing Pedrillo. Robustly comic, Elena Xanthoudakis has the athletic style to conquer the dizzying heights required of Blonde.
Rory Macdonald's conducting achieves a fine momentum, and captivatingly beautiful playing adds a welcome sensuality and depth to a production in which there is plenty to enjoy musically, despite the excessive tinkering and often pointlessly busy staging.
Touring to 27 June (www.operanorth.co.uk)
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