Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mostly Mozart

While some sophisticated music lovers I've known have expressed great admiration for Mozart's The Abduction From the Seraglio, I've never found its plot at all convincing or even interesting.  That does not, of course, diminish the delight in Mozart's music: it merely confirms for me that he really did need a comparable genius, Lorenzo da Ponte, to provide libretti for his three most sublime operas.

This afternoon, however, I enjoyed a wonderful production of Abduction (known also in its original German version as Die Entfuhring aus dem Serail) put on at Washington's Source Theater by The IN Series, which has specialized in delightful updatings of Mozart's operas, focusing up to now on the Da Ponte masterpieces.  As with all great works, all of these can not only withstand this kind of production, but actually come away with even more lustre.

Today's production transposed the action to Judge Roy Bean's saloon, The Jersey Lily, named by him, as was the town where it and he were located, in 1882, after the renowned singer of those times, Lillie Langtry. Judge Bean, you may recall, was known as The Law West of the Pecos.  In real life, alas, Judge Bean's idol, Miss Langtry, never made it to visit her fervent admirer until after his death. But here, it is he and his minions--especially one Osmond--who kidnap her and her maid.  The still-tired plot then features the efforts of her lover, Belmont, and his friend to release her and escape from Texas.

This, of course, is no sillier than the singspiel plot provided to Mozart by his original librettists in Vienna. Belmonte struggles to free his beloved, Constanze (coincidentally, of course, the name of Mozart's long-suffering spouse) from the harem of the Pasha of some Middle Eastern state, and his encounter with the Pasha's chief guard, Osmin.

A fine troupe of strong young singers led the production with the most outstanding being bass Jeffrey Tarr as Osmond and soprano Heather Bingham as Lillie.  The true heroine of the day, however, was Bari Bern, who wrote the English translation that shifted the scene of the opera from the Middle East to Texas and inserted Judge Roy Bean in place of the Pasha.

The libretto was clever and lent the whole production a positive attitude.  It also permitted us to enjoy Mozart's fabulous composition of a succession of arias, duets, and a quartet.  This fine production confirmed my view that great operatic works can benefit from new settings and changes in concept. It's a commonplace to chuckle at the outlandish opera productions often presented in European houses but all too often, our greatest companies remain excessively tied to tradition in the way they approach the operatic masterworks.  The sprightly IN Series here in DC, helmed by Carla Hubner, continues to show the way to instilling renewed vigor into these grand vehicles.

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