Outstanding Glyndebourne Entfuhrung

12 Aug

It’s 25 years since Glyndebourne last did Entfuhrung at the Festival (there was a rather poor revival of the Peter Wood production on the tour in 1997). The reviews for this production had been pretty good, though I was wary of the fact that it was obviously going last half an hour longer than had been planned – the prospect of a slow, dialogue heavy evening didn’t necessarily sound enticing. I needn’t have worried. The performance I saw on 10th August, the last of the run, was probably the finest performance of the piece that I’ve seen.

I remember my first Entfuhrung – the Glyndebourne Tour production of 1972 (Valerie Masterson as Konstanze and Elizabeth Gale as Blondchen) – which I enjoyed enormously. I remember it as a pretty traditional comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan with long arias. Nobody then was particularly troubled by the overtones and that was a time when it didn’t seem wrong just to have a pretty good, untroubling time. Since then, we’ve come to think of it as a difficult opera – an uneasy combination of a play with elaborate arias and a politically difficult story. We’ve come to half believe in Josef II’s “too many notes” comment and there are times when it can feel like an unhappy compromise between opera seria and singspiel.   Companies have either shied away from it or sought, as in Opera North’s debacle of a production, to retell the story – all I remember from that is the Panda. David McVicar’s production made the piece look like a masterpiece.

They performed the fullest version of the text that I’ve come across and it worked, rather as Jonathan Kent’s Shakespeare-heavy Fairy Queen did. You understood more of the back story, more of the tension between the characters. The Pasha emerged as a central character, rather than as a noble walk-on and there was altogether more about him, about Osmin and about the relationships between the characters than you usually get. And it wasn’t boring because the acting was first rate and you believed in it.

This was helped considerably by David McVicar’s brilliant direction of the characters and outstanding ability to help the music make its mark and to build on the back story. A few random pleasures – the Pasha was besieged by lots of European artists and architects who wanted him to buy their wares; we saw him with his other wives and children (to the music of one of the serenades. We saw the extreme ambiguity of Konstanze’s feelings towards the Pasha – the byplay during Martern aller arten was outstandingly well done with a mixture of her being tempted,  and him almost raping her. As she left at the end you felt that she too hoped that she had not made a mistake. McVicar caught the sexual politics wonderfully.

He also caught the class/social mores. Belmonte is a stiff, unpleasant bully of a snob from the start both in his attitudes to the east and to Pedrillo. It made the confrontation with the Pasha at the end particularly interesting. The interaction between the leading characters and the lesser ones – Klaas and the eunuch particularly – was really well done. He created a world where the fascination and tension between east and west beautifully expressed. Above all, he got fine acting performances out of his cast: the dialogue and movement were absolutely perfectly paced, you watched and believed in these individuals – miraculously, it did not feel a moment too long and certainly not a problematic opera.

It looked wonderful too. Vicki Mortimer’s sets and costumes – explicitly 18th century – catch the mixture of airiness and oppression to perfection and look incredibly pleasing. It feels like a production where no expense has been spared to create beautiful and believable pictures. Paule Constable’s lighting created a believable Eastern look – the quality of the light made you believe in the location.

Doubts? Maybe there was a bit too much slapstick – I wasn’t completely convinced by Blondchen and Osmin wrecking the kitchen and felt that it was a bit too like Pedrillo and Osmin wrecking the garden. Did the quartet need to be interrupted by guards looking through the window? These are details – this was an outstandingly detailed, imaginative and convincing version of the piece, convincing you of McVicar’s sheer genius as a director of Mozart and his intelligence. It’s one of his finest pieces of work.

Musically, it was outstanding also. As something of a Robin Ticciati-sceptic, I was overjoyed by the free, flexible and airy conductive of this piece. The overture was a joy to hear with the details coming out perfectly but with the orchestra really listening, working together. He showed us the joyous details of the score, accompanied considerately and seemed entirely at one with the production. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was on stunningly good form – the sound was warm, dramatic and the dynamics and phrasing absolute perfection. This performance was easily the most satisfying musical performance of a Mozart opera that I’ve heard since Mackerras – there was an ease, a certainty about it and a feeling of “rightness” about tempi, phrasing and texture.

And there was a really good set of soloists. Sally Matthews seemed entirely untroubled by the difficulties of Konstanze’s arias and sang with certainty, accuracy and real emotion. My only criticism was that she seemed to be getting into the Te Kanawa/Fleming habit of swallowing consonants – the words weren’t clear and, for me, this detracted from the pleasure that I got from her gorgeous creamy voice and really intelligent acting. The same problems afflicted Edgaras Montvidas as Belmonte and I wondered if he was in best voice. Mind you, he had all four arias to sing and could, perhaps, be forgiven for odd phrases that seemed to get slightly lost. I thought he was at his best in Ich baue ganz where he provided some really gorgeous pianissimo singing. He phrased elegantly and presented the up-tight European aristocrat to perfection.
I very much enjoyed Brendan Gunnell’s Pedrillo – you felt that his time here had an effect on his view of Belmonte. He did Im Mohrenland really well – turning it into a comedy number whilst also singing it beautifully. He had a very nice double act going with Tobias Kehrer’s Osmin. The latter was credibly young and also uncouth. His low notes were all in place and he managed a dangerous, funny and very credible character. I’ve seen a lot of good Osmins but this as one of the finest.

Mari Eriksmoen was a sparky Blondchen – determined, high notes in place and a complete tomboy, She caught the slight nervousness of the servant among her betters while being well able to hold her own with Osmin and Pedrillo. It was nice that she was introduced in the first act, albeit briefly, rather than waiting for Act II.

Franck Saurel was a handsome, convincing Selim. He caught the tension between the values he espoused and his desires. It wasn’t clear at the end that Konstanze was really better off with Belmonte. It was splendid that he had these opportunities.

This evening struck me as epitomising Glyndebourne’s values at their best and most successful: intelligent, thoughtful direction, really good casting and music and production values that put every other company in the country in the shade. You could imagine more radical and exciting productions, but this was deeply satisfying, intelligent and as good an Entfuhrung as I could hope to see. It’ll be back.

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