Die Entführung aus dem Serail Review Robert Kime
An opera? In an antique furniture store?
Yes, you did just read that correctly. But this production is courtesy of Popup Opera, a company whose mission is to expand the traditional realms of opera. Previous performances have taken place in, for instance, restored Victorian buildings, boats, caverns and a winery. The hodgepodge of collectibles in Robert Kime make for an intriguing and intimate setting.
It’s not just the performance space that’s unusual – the choice of opera, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is a lesser known work from the great composer that’s infrequently performed. Here, the tale of two women abducted into a Turkish harem is given a modern update as Konstanze and Blonde are trapped in a spa because they didn’t read the T’s and C’s. The spa itself is run not by Pasha Selim, but by a silent, omnipresent Big Brother – a canny, if unexplained, way of cutting a character and reducing the opera to a more manageable size. That’s in addition to removing all traditionally spoken dialogue for a sung-through opera that remains lucid. The women are reliant on the hapless Belmonte and Pedrillo, their respective lovers, to rescue them from a life of gym workouts and ironing. Yes, it’s as silly and faintly misogynistic as it sounds, but it’s all performed with tongue firmly in cheek, lightly poking fun at the form.
Much of the humour stems from the use of surtitles. With the opera performed using the original German libretto, two screens relay a translation to the audience. Yet not a company to miss out on a comic opportunity, the surtitles consistently and hilariously undermine the action. Characters’ thoughts and feelings are presented through social media and dating apps; pithy remarks comment on the action; and whole swathes of arias are reduced to short, witty one-liners. Though at times distracting, the use of the screens adds a welcome modern twist to the production that only adds to the comedy.
Musically, Die Entführung aus dem Serail isn’t Mozart’s best work. It’s lacking the tunes we’ve come to expect from his more famous operas, though there remains some difficult technical singing and coloratura. In addition, the first half consists predominantly of solos (owing to the narrative, with the characters separated), so the ensemble pieces of the second act make for a welcome change with some beautiful harmonies. Though a little rough around the edges at times, the singing is mostly excellent. Paul Hopwood has a warm, rich tenor as Belmonte and Marcin Gesla’s Osmin sings in an impressively deep and rumbling bass. The lighter voices of Tom Morss and Emily Phillips work well together as Pedrillo and Blonde, though they are too easily overpowered by the dramatic voice of Eve Daniell as Konstanze, whose soprano is too big for such an intimate space. Berrak Dyer offers a reliable piano accompaniment.
So why a furniture store? That remains to be answered. The opera isn’t set in a furniture store and the antiques undermine the attempts at a modern setting (and the simple, modern costumes). Further, it proves an awkward space for both staging and singing, with the audience split on two sides – vocal balance is therefore an issue. With the tour continuing at other (equally bizarre) venues, each performance is likely to be a unique experience.
That said, Popup Opera offer a charming and lighthearted production that’s undoubtedly a little different, with a comic tone that’s sure to welcome in a new audience. Mission accomplished.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail tours until April 25th 2015 at a variety of venues.