Luis Gutiérrez Ruvalcaba
Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Salzburg 2003
A criminal at large in Salzburg
Salzburgo, 14.08.2003
A legend says that the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was destroyed by an arsonist who wanted to be known by posterity for this nasty deed. Nevertheless, he was punished with oblivion, and we don't know his name.

We all know that opera started as an experiment in Florence during the last years of the 16th century, when the members of the Camerata were interested in finding out which was the role the music played in Greek tragedies. We remember the names of Ottavio Rinuccini, the poet who wrote the libretto to operas set to music by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, and both named Euridice. By the way, Peri did not think he knew the specific way in which music was used in Greece. Later in Mantua, Alessandro Striggio and Claudio Monteverdi collaborated in the creation of the first masterpiece of the new art form, L'Orfeo; then in Venice the same Monteverdi composed at least two more operas, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, and L'incoronazzione di Poppea, with librettos of Giacomo Badoaro and Giovanni Busennello, respectively. It is interesting to know that the operas of Monteverdi were not performed between the mid 1600's and early in the 1900's, about 250 years, but the names of the composer and the librettists were never forgotten.

A bunch of intellectuals met in Vienna in the middle of the 18th century, having as ultimate objective the reform of opera, that was by then a rather predictable and, most of the time, a rather boring spectacle. The men that Count Durazzo, director of spectacles of Vienna, was able to put to work together were: Christoph Willebald Gluck, composer, Ranieri di Calzabigi, poet, Gasparo Angiolini, choreographer, Gaetano Guadagni, singer and actor trained by Garrick, and the Quaglio brothers, designers of sets and costumes. I want to think that Calzabigi was also a kind of stage director, and also that the figure of the producer or director didn't exist.

During the 19th century Verdi started to write his Disposizione scenice books, in order to protect the integrity of his dramatic intentions not expressed in the music, and of allowing productions to take place even in his absence. Were these long and detailed books a result of some type of bowdlerisation of his operas? I don't know, but it is probable. Still no names of directors yet.

But then, when were the directors important? Probably when opera started its decline as a major art form, and as a dominant way of expression. This moment coincided with two events: the start of the cinematography as an industry and new art form, and with the triumph of the Soviet Revolution. Stanislavski founded the Bolshoi Opera Studio in 1918, having in Chaliapin a successful product. And then came Meyerhold, and then Felsenstein, and then.

Then came the age of the director. A new high, or more precisely, a new low happened this year in Salzburg. A director, whose name I will never write and that I expect will be forgotten soon, thought he had the talent and guts to destroy an opera by Mozart.

The opera was a singspiel, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. To start, the director decided to eliminate the spoken role of Bassa Selim, eliminating so a basic drive of the opera, forgiveness, and sweeping the meaning of the denouement. Most of the lines were told by Osmin, Blondchen and Pedrillo, plus some new the guy invented. Instead of a story of love, lust, and forgiveness, the director "created" a story of fidelity "without feet and head". It started during the overture presenting a naked couple that suddenly felt shame and started to dress as bride and groom. Then the groom, Belmonte, arrived to. I don't know where, and founded Osmin dressed as a priest and singing Hallelujah!; I am not making this up, really!

The director-arsonist, used violence all over, in the language with his own lines, in the action with repetitive signs of blood, and not satisfied with that, produced a violent response from a big part of the audience who booed very often. Maybe that was his aim. The three acts were converted into two, placing the interval just after Pedrillo started his aria of act II, "Frisch zum kampfe!". He thought funny to make Pedrillo inform the audience of the interval switching on the light of the Kleines Festspielhaus. Of course, when the action restarted, Pedrillo was off pitch. Besides the obvious couples of Belmonte and Konstanze, and Pedrillo and Blondchen, there were at least ten more couples of brides and grooms, which only made the thing worst.

But Mozart survived to the arsonist thanks to the musicians. Ivor Bolton conducted a lively performance of the Mozarteum Orchestra, and Robert Howarth played the fortepiano splendidly. They performed the whole NMA edition without cutting a note; maybe it was their response to the imbecility of the director.

Jonas Kaufmann performed a better than average Belmonte, although some people in the audience thought he should drop the role now. The only singer that was not to the great level was Dietmar Kerschbaum as Pedrillo, who sounded as said above, flat during the "second part" of the opera. Pete Rose showed a beautiful voice with a very long register, reaching without difficulty the low E's in "O, wie will ich triumpheren". Of note was the fact during the very long dialogues, the new ones, he added in English, "we already lost the plot".

The two women were really outstanding. Diana Damrau, who sung even indisposed, was a wonderful Blondchen blooming in her two arias, being really funny, and in pitch, during her duet with Osmin, and fantastic when singing the off tempo in the quartet.

The great star of the evening, as it should be, was Iride Martinez as Konstanze. This young soprano from Costa Rica, unknown to me, had a wonderful coloratura singing her three arias. And singing well a complete "Martern aller Arten" is not a simple achievement.

At the end, the audience loudly booed the invisible "creative team", but recognised also very warmly the great performance of singers and musicians with very loud applause.

I still think Mozart survived an arsonist, but I firmly believe that this wonderful art form, opera, is in real danger of disappearing thanks to that so called "intelligenzia", that most of the times lately becomes "stupidizia".

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