– review – review

The Abduction from the Seraglio

The Magic Flute


Houston Grand Opera

January 2008

Tamara Wilson and Paul Groves in The Abduction from the Seraglio. Photo: Andrew Cloud.

There’s poetry in Houston Grand Opera’s recent pairing of two Mozart operas, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart’s first hit, and The Magic Flute, his last. The two singspiel operas deal with moral issues amidst human mischief with a good dash of comedy.

The Abduction from the Seraglio can be seen as a great warm-up act of The Magic Flute to follow nine years later. It’s a comic gem of a piece, albeit a tad politically incorrect. Due to the recent defeat of the Ottoman empire interest inTurkey was all the rage. Emotions are mixed here, with the comic character and buffoon, Osmin, who has a particular interest in keeping women as slaves, and Pasha Selim, the savvy woman thief with a soft heart, at least at the end.

Originally set in a harem, director James Robinson sets his opera on a train, the elegant Orient Express to be exact. It’s a stroke of genius and a wonderful solution to the unruly locales of the original. Plus, it serves to compress the plot visually, allowing many things to happen at once. The cozy enclosure also tightens the drama as well. It’s especially effective during the blotched escape scene. To make it all the more exciting, the train appears to be moving, sometimes at quite a clip.

Soprano Tamara Wilson comes into her own in the role of Konstanze, Pasha’s favorite conquest. Bass Andrea Silvestrelli howls with a masterful authority as Osmin, the Turk who fancies torture and a disdain for the freedoms of western women. As Belmonte tenor Paul Groves delivers both a notable and noble performance as Konstanze’s love and rescuer. Heidi Stober’s bright performance as Blonde sparkles and works best in her scenes with the Osmin. Nicholas Phan is wonderfully spunky as Pedrillo. The entire cast display a deft flair for comedy. Smart period costumes by Anna R. Oliver and the clever train interiors by Allen Moyer, add to the shiny polish of this performance. Paul Palazzo illuminates the proceedings nicely, adding to the neatly-contained feel of the production. William Lacey guided the HGO orchestra in a fine performance.

There’s even more star-kissed magic in HGO’s production of The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s masterpieces and most performed operas of all time. With equal parts fantasy and philosophy, fabulous music, and vivid characters, there’s everything you’d ever want in an opera and more. And the more part is where HGO comes in with this inventive production directed by Kevin Newbury. The whole experience seems to take place on a new plane of the imagination, that dwells more in the logic of dreams and parable. The spirit of enlightenment reigns boldly here.

Soprano Rebekah Camm demonstrated vocal agility as Pamina. Eric Cutler’s dashing Tamino hit the right note in his energetic performance. Russian Soprano Albina Shagimuratova captured the Queen of the the Night in full goth style, and managed Mozart’s difficult passages with ease and precision. Her grand Las Vegas entrance, rising from the ground in a puff of smoke, was matched by her vocal prowess. Patrick Carfizzi’s physical performance charmed as the spirited bird catcher Papageno. Raymond Aceto’s rich vocal tones made for a commanding Sarastro. Jon Kolbet imbued the Monostatos with suitable mischievous energy. The bubbly yet sinister Three Ladies included Tamara Wilson, Maria Markina, and Jamie Barton. The three delicate genies Liz Kaufman, Joan Stewart Scheirman, and Laura Smolik floated across the stage in a stroke of ethereal magic Steven Sloane led the HGO orchestra in a solid performance.

Newbury’s direction gives full weight to the opera’s deceptively whimsical nature without sacrificing depth. It’s a fine line and Newbury straddles it with considerable ease allowing for the archetypal themes to remain intact. David Hockney’s sets and costumes lend a dream-like, larger-than-you-can imagine atmosphere, fitting for a fairy tale. Intense primary color rules the stage, evoking a story-book feel. Masonic imagery of temples, pyramids, and other Egyptian motifs added to the visual lure. D.M. Wood’s lightening design highlights good and evil in bold strokes of intense color and velvety darkness.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."