Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Nationaltheater Munich, 11 July 2011
Die Entführung remains a staple of German opera houses, however high the risk of inflaming racial sensitivities with its provocative libretto. They just can't not do it. Another reason Martin Duncan's bland 2003 production was revived, presumably, is this year's Munich Opera Festival theme of freedom and imprisonment, into which it slots nicely.
Practically the entire opera is performed from sofas (a Turkish invention of course) suspended just above the stage. They whizz from side to side like flying carpets - a visual joke that long, long outstays its welcome.
In an attempt to defuse the more xenophobic aspect of the work, the lengthy singspiel dialogues are replaced by a new narrative, declaimed by the burka-clad Turkish-German actress Demet Gül. Part chorus style ooh-look-at-that, part exposition on the Turkish way of life, it has an uneasy finger-wagging quality better perhaps suited to a schools matinee than an adult evening out. More burka ladies underline that not every Turkish woman is a belly dancer - although there are plenty of those on stage too, to complete the roster of Turkish cliches. The male chorus are relegated to the orchestra pit. In keeping with the toned down political correctness, Osmin is no more than a jolly fat bumbler, and Selim is reduced to just one spoken line. Revelatory it is not.
Granted just one Festival performance in the middle of a packed multi-opera roster, I'd be surprised if the orchestra got much (if any) rehearsal before the show. It certainly sounded that way. The Staatsoper orchestra are good enough to do credit to just about anything, but their playing under Johannes Debus was tame and cautious. Perhaps they were simply tired after the previous night's Messiaen-marathon. Mozart's most joyous and exuberant opera fell flat as a Turkish pancake.
The cast were variable, with Pavol Breslik's immaculately-sung Belmonte the pick. Dependable company member Kevin Conners was a reliable Pedrillo, and Peter Rose's Osmin, gamely sporting pink bloomers, had everything but the lowest notes. Anna Prohaska's engaging and sweet-toned Blonde was a tad underpowered for the Nationaltheater but she hit the notes squarely and effortlessly. That's more than could be said for Konstanze of Jennifer O'Loughlin, a late substitute for Elena Mosuc. She has an attractive voice and decent technique, and I could imagine her impressing in the lighter Mozart roles. But she currently lacks both the high notes and the vocal agility to get through Konstanze. A Fach too far, and no Turkish delight.