Die Entf’hrung aus dem Serail at Garsington was one of the most innovative interpretations of an opera I have ever seen, says Melinda Hughes
The sweeping manicured lawns of the Getty Estate with its idyll of a cricket pitch and vista of the lake with the Chiltern Hills beyond is the perfect setting for one of the UK’s leading opera festivals.
Garsington Opera kicks off its 2013 season with a stunning production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The staggering set, hilariously clever script and superb moments of comic genius made this one of the most innovative interpretations of an opera I have ever seen.
I haven’t been so impressed by a production since David McVicar’s LeNozze di Figaro (and I go to the opera every week!) so I can only guess that the director and designer, Daniel Slater and Francis O’ Connor respectively, have huge careers ahead of them.
The opera has been cleverly brought up to date with Bassa Selim (played by actor Aaron Neil) depicted as an obscenely wealthy Russian oligarch, owner of a football team and seducer of Konstanze (Rebecca Nelsen) who, despite being laden with Gucci and Prada bags, does not succumb to his charms.
There are jokes about Rupert Murdoch, Forbes Magazine, yachts in Monaco and crooked football managers. Selim’s suited and booted bodyguards complete with shades and earpieces are appropriately menacing and stupid while Bassa Selim’s house is turned inside out with plenty of visual tricks to amuse, including the arrival of Selim and Konstanze in a chauffeur driven Jaguar.
Add to this the cleverest of scripts seamlessly linking the part English, part German dialogue to the German singing, and you have a dramaturgical triumph.
Nelsen, although a little light for the role of Konstanze, manages to sing notoriously testing arias with grace and elegance. I would, however, have liked her to have been a little more assured in her stage presence. She is nicely balanced by a steely feistiness of Blonde, sung by the sassy Susanna Andersson who not only possesses a particularly beautiful timbre but has a suitably strong and cheeky disposition perfect for this stock soubrette role.
It was the men however whole stole the show. Mark Wilde was unrecognisable as Pedrillo; a hybrid of Danny de Vito and Alan Sugar, he had some wonderful one-liners and totally assumed this hilarious portrayal of a cockney aide-de-camp to Belmonte (Norman Reinhardt).
Reinhardt posing as a gormless American tourist has a beautiful warm sound and showed superb handling of some acrobatic coloratura and Matthew Rose as Osmin, the disgruntled bodyguard fighting for Blonde’s attentions sang as he always does — masterfully, with a deep rich tone and a magnificent prescence. The orchestra was superbly conducted by William Lacey and there were some wonderful voices in the chorus.
Garsington's Opera Pavilion, Photograph by Clive Barda
Coming up at Garsington
I urge anyone who is looking for a superb and idyllic evening out to book an evening at Garsington. Its only 40 minutes down the M40 and the whole evening, complete with yummy Jamie Oliver food in the extended interval, made this a perfectly romantic and entertaining night.
There are other things on the operatic menu; Maometto Secondo (Rossini), Hansel & Gretel (Humperdinck) and a newly written community opera by Orlando Gough entitled ‘Road Rage’, which proves be lots of fun.
Follow Melinda Hughes @Melhugsopera