A Turkish Delight
Boston Lyric Opera Scores High With Mozart’s ‘Seraglio’
The Abduction from the Seraglio
By W. A. Mozart
Boston Lyric Opera, Shubert Theatre
Nov. 6, 8, 12, 15, and 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 10 and 17 at 3 p.m.
Directed by James Robinson
Conducted by Stephen Lord
Starring Eric Cutler, Jennifer Casey Cabot, Cyndia Sieden, Harold Gray Meers
Boston Lyric Opera’s entertaining, joyous, and well-sung production of Mozart’s comic opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, fittingly evokes the spirit of the giggling and mischievous composer so endearingly captured in the Oscar winning film Amadeus. Mozart was only 25 years old when he wrote the opera, and while it does not rank among his best works, the BLO delivers it in such a fine package that it’s hard to resist its charm.
Mozart originally set Seraglio in 16th century Turkey, right in the Pasha Selim’s Harem. Konstanza and Blonde, kidnapped by pirates and sold to the Pasha as wife and maid respectively, are yearning for freedom and love. The Pasha, in a desperate exercise of unrequited love, showers Konstanza with gifts and flatter, but she valiantly resists him, saving herself for Belmonte, the Spanish nobleman whom she loves.
In Boston Lyric Opera’s production, the setting is more modern, and Belmonte’s efforts to find and free Konstanza from her imprisonment now take place on the Orient Express, the legendary train connecting Istanbul and Paris. Instead of the Seraglio’s pomp and orientalism, the stage design by Allen Moyer evokes the atmosphere of a luxurious turn-of-the century train ride, complete with mahogany interior and plush seats. The cars cleverly section and frame the stage, allowing for rapid scene shifts, while using the small Shubert stage to create a sense of intimacy. Anne R. Oliver’s glamorous costume design, paired with the fact that the opera is sung in English and has a lot of spoken dialogue, calls to mind the gay spirit of the vintage Hollywood musical.
The only annoying part of James Robinson’s otherwise spirited and fluid direction is his use of Islamic cultural stereotypes to get some cheap laughs. The Harem girls in the Pasha’s entourage are all sour looking women covered in black chadors from top till toe, while the Pasha’s servant is an alcohol-drinking hypocrite. This portrayal is particularly uncalled for and unfortunate in a time when misunderstanding Islam has become a national obsession.
The singing in solid throughout. Tenor Eric Cutler’s voice has grace, lyricism, and volume in abundance, but his mannerisms are more like those of a shy youngster than a heroic nobleman. His love interest, Konstanza, is sung by a rather pregnant Jennifer Casey Cabot, who had some trouble with the high notes in the first act, but pulled through to deliver a strong overall performance.
Another vocal treat comes from Cyndia Sieden in the role of Blonde, who covers the wide range of octaves with impressive confidence and accuracy. In an unorthodox twist of musical history, Mozart did not give the Pasha a single note to sing, and John Douglas Thompson, an actor from the American Repertory Theatre, plays the role with much the same grandeur as he showed in last year’s Othello.
The singing is accompanied and aided by an excellent performance from the orchestra, led by Stephen Lord, making Seraglio one of the best opera productions in Boston in recent years. Additional good news is that the Boston Lyric Opera has started offering student rush tickets (50 percent off), making this musical delight affordable. The bad news is that the last performance is tonight, so if you’re an opera buff, you have little time to waste.