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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Abduction from the Seraglio

Soprano Alina Adamski. Image uncredited

Decisions are curious things. Take Irish National Opera's concert performance of Mozart's 1782 comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, a German language singspiel which uses spoken dialogue instead of recitative. Originally due to be performed in the Gaiety last May before having to be cancelled due to Covid, INO took the decision to proceed with a concert performance. Omitting dialogue in response to social distancing, they opted to rely solely on singing and Mozart's sumptuous music. Using subtitles not only to translate from German, but also to fill in narrative blanks. And it's a decision that doesn't quite pay off. Still, given the amount of setbacks the arts have suffered recently, you have to admire INO's aspirations under impossible circumstances. Especially in light of the Government's incomprehensible and soul crushing decision not to re-open theatres. A kick in the teeth right up there with, say, your world class soprano getting a throat infection and having to withdraw at the last minute.

Funny you should mention that.

Set in Turkey, Mozart's comic opera finds the lovelorn Belmonte in the lavish gardens of the Pasha, Bassa Selim, attempting to rescue his love, Konstanze, and her spirited maid, Blonde. Assisted by his servant Pedrillo, Belmonte sets out to thwart the surly and burly Osmin who is intent on keeping the captive women trapped in the Pasha's harem.

On paper it has all the right ingredients. Tenor Dean Power as Belmonte, tenor Andrew Gavin as Pedrillo, bass James Platt as Osmin and soprano Sarah Power as Blonde are each wonderful, with Platt's bass singing sounding truly impressive. The riveting soprano Alina Adamski as Konstanze is simply marvellous. Due to sing the role of Konstanze at the Frankfurt Opera before theatre closures, Adamski replaces Claudia Boyle who had to withdraw because of a throat infection, and does so with considerable grace and style. Throughout, Peter Whelan conducts the Irish Chamber Orchestra and Irish National Opera Chorus with verve, capturing the heart, heat and humour of Mozart's opera. Some beautifully sung arias, a thrilling end to each act, and a vocal quartet in the third act that's to die for, what's not to like?

And yet.

Brimming with love, lust and longing, infused with a lust for life and some barely concealed love for lust, The Abduction from the Seraglio is an opera in which character and narrative are absolutely crucial. Omitting a key character in Bassa Selim, and with narrative engagement and character suffering in the absence of dialogue, something vital gets lost in concert. Even allowing that singspiel lends focus to individual songs, the tapestry they attempt to weave is only ever glimpsed and hinted at. Unlike INO's hugely successful Mezzo Masterpiece concerts, which showcase key singers singing a selection of greatest hits from different parts of the repertoire, The Abduction from the Seraglio is a complete opera. Missing key components, it doesn't translate quite as successfully.

The Abduction from the Seraglio is one of Mozart's most demanding operas. Posing unique challenges for bass, tenor and soprano, particularly during key arias, a concert performance offers an opportunity to enjoy some rare listening riches. All of which a superb quintet negotiate beautifully with an almost unassuming ease. Even so, as a tale steeped in the exotic, infused with an earthy eroticism, along with rich veins of humour and terrific characters, The Abduction from the Seraglio is an opera that demands to be staged. To be performed as well as sung. Here, the experience is similar to listening in on a studio recording in which some parts have been left out. Vocally it's an excellent recording, but it's haunted by the shades of what should be there, screaming to be heard and seen. One can only hope that a staging may not be beyond the bounds of the possible post Covid.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, presented by Irish National Opera and the National Concert Hall in partnership with Irish Chamber Orchestra was live streamed from National Opera House, Wexford, on December 5 as part of the NCH Classical Livestream Series.

Mezzo Masterpieces #3 featuring Mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, performing a selection from Mozart, will be live streamed from The Picture Gallery, Kilkenny Castle on Thursday, December 10 at 8.00pm and available online for fourteen day after.

Tickets and information available from Irish National Opera.


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