The celebrated three-act opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart comes to life in this dynamic performance at the world-famous Salzburg Festival. Director Francois Abou Salem brings a modern Middle Eastern sensibility to this journey into Arabian and Muslim culture, filtering the comic tale of abduction for today's audiences. Soprano Christine Schafer portrays Constanze, a woman whose heart is torn between her fiance, Belmonte (Paul Groves), and her new master, Pasha Selim (Akram Tillawi). A sensual and resoundingly modern experience, this new interpretation casts new light on a classic musical work and infuses it with aching human emotion.
Mozart's cute little comedy about the rescue of two kidnapped women from a Turkish harem is brilliantly sung and well acted in this production from the Salzburg Festival, but opinions will be divided on the direction and staging. Costumes and scenic details (blue jeans, barbed wire, feminist demonstrations) move the story up to the present time, and some additions to the original text reinforce its Levantine atmosphere. These additions include quite a bit of dialogue in Arabic, translated in the subtitles, like the German text, and some Middle Eastern dances, with non-Mozartian music supplied by Turkish musicians in the orchestra pit. "Turkish" sounds (mainly metallic percussion) were fashionable in 18th-century Vienna and were included in Mozart's score, so in a sense these additions simply reinforce Mozart's own idea.
All of the principal performers are excellent. Paul Groves (Belmonte) is that rarest of singers, a good Mozart light tenor. Christine Schaefer breezes through Constanze's vocal challenges. Malin Hartelius and Franz Hawlata give vigorous performances with lots of personality. --Joe McLellan