Amidst stormy skies, ample bubbly and extremely well-spoken young scouts helping with people’s hampers, the audience assembled for Mozart’s early opera Die Entfürhung aus dem Serail.
The outwardly simple set had an impressive array of cut outs in the house wall and it was clear we were going to be treated with ample revolving windows and doors throughout the evening. Indeed, the set, designed by Francis O’Connor was the absolute highlight of the production, combining wit and irony with unbelievable tack, and somehow achieving a certain elegance with its swinging walls, paintings, lifts, windows and balconies. One of the best moments was when the stage changed from ground to first floor, shown by the paintings swiftly swinging round from Picasso to Matisse, a drinks cabinet full of vintage whisky and an amazing array of Veuve Cliquot bottles appearing, and a hilariously tacky trophy cabinet lining floor to ceiling. The audience absolutely loved it.
Director Daniel Slater changed Mozart’s setting from a Pasha’s household in Turkey to that of a rich Russian football club owner. No guesses as to whom they were referring. The German of Mozart’s Singspiel, characterised by sections of words rather than recitative, was changed into a mixture of English (American and cockney), German, Italian and Spanish and completely re-written to bring it into the modern day setting. Whilst it was fairly humorous in parts, the jokes were bordering on the crude and marginally obvious, and my more traditional would have appreciated the modern-day setting though with Mozart’s original script.
Conductor William Lacey and the Garsington orchestra were excellent, creating the perfect balance of delicate strings with brash cymbals and bass drums that typify Mozart’s Western version of Janassary Turkish music (as can be heard in the overture opening below). And Matthew Rose singing Osmin stood out from the rest of the voices with the incredible strength and intensity of his voice. However, some of the more emotional parts of the opera didn’t quite reach their potential heights and I’m still unsure as to whether this was due to the singing, staging or both. Some of the staging was too static whilst Konstanze’s most emotionally-charged ‘Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele’ (Oh what sorrow overwhelms my sprit) aria in Act II was accompanied by Konstanze practising Tai Chi and having a pedicure. This juxtaposition between the sublime and the ridiculous were amusing but bordering on slightly crass and her voice just didn’t quite attain the levels it could have done.
One of the best cameo parts (which Garsington has become famous for) that received the most laughs was the on-stage Jaguar which made two appearances. It’s moments like this which really make Garsington such a desirable opera destination than the more traditional houses.
This production highlighted the links between opera and politics, taking the 18th-century perception of the Other that was associated with the Ottoman Empire, using its connotations of wealth and power, and transporting it to a modern-day setting. Whether Abramovich ever thought he would be the main character in an opera is another question. One audience member did not seem to have quite understood the modern production, exclaiming at the end that ‘it was remarkable how Mozart managed to include football in his opera’. Sadly she wasn’t joking.
In his, pre-opera talk Davis Slater points out that one doesn’t get darkness until the last half an hour of the opera, and the singers can therefore see the audience, emphasising that whilst this might seem trivial, it actually creates a very direct relationship between the performer and audience. The space demands everyone to up their game and embrace the world of the theatre. This production certainly impressively embraced the world of the theatre, but whether they did complete justice to the opera remains to be decided.