Opera folks have their quibbles. There are those who want a classic staging, just as audiences would have seen at the times the operas were written. The fewer liberties, the better. And then there are those who believe resetting the production can add vitality. When logically executed, I am firmly in the second camp. James Robinson’s setting for “The Abduction from the Seraglio” is surprisingly successful.
Action takes place on the Orient Express circa 1920. At first, the train setting, though elegant, feels cramped on the Chandler stage, however as the action proceeds it works quite well and the choice of the Orient Express makes sense with the story. The Abduction is about a noble woman, her servant, and her fiancé’s man servant. They have been captured by pirates who have sold them to a Pasha who wants the women for his harem. If you have happened to misplace your route map of the Orient Express, the house curtain clearly presents it. The route passes right through Turkey and the score is replete with Turkish references. It all fits together and 1920’s get-ups are always fun.
Most importantly, The Abduction is a Singspiel, an opera where arias are interspersed with spoken dialogue, generally slavishly recited in the original language and translated in super titles. In an opera buffa the audience reaction to the humor is often subdued. Not in this production. These artists are excellent actors and the spoken portions are in English adding immensely to the enjoyment of all.
The Pasha ((Hamish Linklater) has fallen for Konstanze (Sally Matthews), the noble woman. He wants her as the first wife of the Harem (the Seraglio) and tries to woo her with lavish gifts. She resists and pines for her fiancé Belmonte (Joel Prieto) who sneaks on board the train to recapture her. Hers is a noble – and somewhat tiresome — love as portrayed by Matthews. But it is exactly her faithfulness to her former fiancé that makes her so attractive to Pasha Selim. Osmin (Morris Robinson), the Pasha’s chief servant has his eyes on Konstanze’s servant, Blonde (So Young Park). His seduction mode is lust and dominance. Robinson, thrice an All American on the Citadel football team, takes charge of the field with his splendid bass and powerful presence. He wants Blonde and is determined to take her. However tiny So Young Park’s Blonde is so energetic and vital it is clear she will be the winner. Park, an alumna of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, is an outstanding young singer with excellent comic timing, a beautiful voice, and an excellent sense of movement. She and Robinson are reason enough to grab a ticket and go. The stage is at its most vibrant when both are on.
Pedrillo (Brenton Ryan), Belmonte’s servant who was captured with the women, helps Belmonte set up a plan for the four young lovers to escape the train. This is opera, so do not expect it to make a lot of sense, but with singers who are also good actors it is a pleasure to watch. Perhaps the most outstanding moment is the splendid quartet of the 4 young lovers at the end of Act II. Even Konstanze seems to have the youthful lust and energy to bring the plot off.
Director James Robinson’s production of The Abduction was first seen in Houston in 2001. It has since played in many locations but this is its first presentation in Los Angeles. With such a fresh approach and such a strong cast it is easy to see why this production has been so popular. It is worth the trek to the Chandler and the three-hour play time.