“Too beautiful for our ears, and a great many notes, dear Mozart,” is reported to have been Emperor Joseph II’s complaint upon hearing “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” Had the emperor been present at Emmanuel Music’s concert performance Saturday at Emmanuel Church, he might have reached a more positive conclusion.
“Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” as it’s called in the original German, premiered in 1782, just a year after Mozart’s arrival in Vienna. The lighthearted story looks ahead, in many ways, to “The Magic Flute.” The Pamina figure is Spanish noblewoman Konstanze; though engaged to Belmonte, she’s been seized by pirates and sold to the Turkish Pasha Selim, along with her maid Blonde and Belmonte’s servant Pedrillo. Pasha Selim has fallen in love with Konstanze, and his surly overseer Osmin is eyeing Blonde, who’s engaged to Pedrillo. Can the ladies hold out until Belmonte arrives? In a word, yes, but Mozart has a surprise ending up his sleeve: It’s not Belmonte who saves the day but the Pasha.
“The Abduction From the Seraglio” is a singspiel, with dialogue rather than recitative connecting the arias. Emmanuel Music chose to have the arias sung in German and the dialogue spoken in English. That could have worked if the English translation hadn’t been so jarringly colloquial, and if the delivery of it by the singers hadn’t been so disarmingly casual.
Costuming was also a puzzle. Barbara Kilduff’s Konstanze and Teresa Wakim’s Blonde wore glamorous dresses, but Jason McStoots’s Pedrillo turned up in denim overalls over a white shirt, Charles Blandy’s Belmonte sported dark glasses, and, in the nonsinging role of the Pasha, former Boston Globe classical music critic Richard Dyer appeared in a white suit and a turban of many colors. There was limited interaction between singers; I wish there had been more.
But the singing itself compensated for the production flaws. Kilduff, who has sung Blonde at the Met and elsewhere, brought a steely, clarion soprano to Konstanze, with a securely articulated coloratura in her big aria, “Martern aller Arten.” Blandy gave us a somewhat stolid, obtuse Belmonte — pretty much what Mozart asks for — and there was no faulting his rich, romantic tenor. The easy power with which he drew out the word “bringe” in his opening “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” was quite breathtaking. McStoots was a lively Pedrillo who pussyfooted delightfully through “In Mohrenland gefangen war.” Livelier still was Wakim as a very British Blonde; she was the best actor on stage, and her sharp-focused “Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” put Osmin in his place. Donald Wilkinson made a surprisingly good-natured overseer, as if he were trying to get the audience on his side, but he had the low D and the agile coloratura required for “Ha, wie will ich triumphieren.”
Best of all was the orchestra under Emmanuel artistic director Ryan Turner. The musicians reveled in the Janissary touches — piping piccolo, tinkling triangle, crashing cymbals, booming bass drum — of the Overture, and thereafter they backed the singers with clarity and character. There might be a great many notes in “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” but here they all seemed just right.
THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO
An opera singspiel by Mozart
Performed by Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, artistic director
At: Emmanuel Church, Saturday
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.