The Abduction from the Seraglio (Mozart)

The Abduction from the Seraglio (Mozart)


W.A.Opera Company and Chorus
W.A.Symphony Orchestra
His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

A disconcerting and striking aspect of this co-production between Opera Australia and the W.A.Opera Company of Mozart’s Il Seraglio (which is set in an anonymous, modern-day country in the Middle East) is that the subservience of women in much of this part of the world right now seems little different to what it was in Mozart’s day more than two centuries ago.

As women shrouded by traditional robes (with, in this production, curious, helmet-like masks in lieu of veils) came onstage in Act 1 against a backdrop of a dusty, begrimed, neon-lit airport building, it was a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

But in this updated production of Mozart’s sparkling opera, there’s one woman who, in her refusal to be cowed or to accept secondary status, is feistiness personified. Soprano Rachel Durkin played the role of Blondchen as if it had been written to her. As a Britisher captured by Pasha Selim and almost unrecognisable as a Marilyn Monroe clone with blonde wig, hip-hugging pink pants and very high heels, she strutted about the stage as if it was her natural milieu.

In vocal terms, this young singer has come forward impressively. Her voice, with its agility, suppleness and projection, has improved noticeably, all auguring well for an operatic career of substance. And a gift for comedy, apparent in some of her earlier performances, was here hilariously evident. Certainly, she made the most of her lines in this most charming of singspielen.

Merlyn Quaife, that veteran of numberless opera productions, sang Constanza with a depth of expressiveness and grasp of style that had the touch of distinction. All kinds of martyrs, better known as Martern aller Arten, was informed by a mood of bold defiance; it was a ringing endorsement of Quaife’s musicianly skill. Elsewhere, there was an occasional lack of clear definition in high-speed passagework and some loss of power towards the lower end of the range.

In visual terms, Monte Jaffe made the most of the richly farcical role of Osmin who oversees the harem where Constanza and Blondchen have been unwillingly confined. Jaffe’s voice has a richly sonorous quality and he has a real feel for what works in comic terms but at times his diction lacked clarity, resulting in the loss of more than a few laughs. He was armed to the teeth, as were the gentlemen of the chorus, all wearing turbans, toting rifles and, with some exceptions, looking fierce and dangerous.

David Hamilton seemed positively to relish the role of Pedrillo, another of the Pasha’s captives and boyfriend of Blondchen. And David Hobson as Belmonte brought a nice touch of ardour to the role. James Sellis made of Selim Pasha (a non-singing role) a figure of considerable dignity and even compassion.

Apart from moments in the overture when upper strings sounded under pressure attempting to fit rapid semiquaver note groups into the overall rhythmic framework, a much reduced W.A. Symphony Orchestra responded alertly to Richard Mills’ direction in the pit. The woodwind choir was very much up to the mark but strings often sounded underpowered and could, to advantage, have been strengthened by a few more players.

Michael Gow’s directorial touch was everywhere apparent. There was much to please and intrigue the eye, not least Robert Kemp’s set designs. That for Act 1 was an inspiration, an airport arrivals hall that had about it a tatty, rundown look which had the ring of truth about it. So, too, did a chorus tableau of airline personnel including pilots, stewardesses in a uniform strikingly reminiscent of a real life Middle Eastern airline plying between the Gulf and Perth, and female passengers shrouded in black and carrying bulging bags of duty-free goods. Kemp’s Act II design – a spacious, palatial interior – was no less effective with its attention to fine detail. Also adding to a production that was consistently appealing in visual terms were Kemp’s costume designs and Nick Schlieper’s lighting that did much to enhance atmosphere.

© 2003




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