Mozart – Die Entführung aus dem Serail

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday, September 10 2006

Conductor: Paul Daniel. Production: Christof Loy. Sets and costumes: Herbert Murauer. Konstanze: Rachel Harnisch. Belmonte: Blagoj Nacoski. Blonde: Alexandra Lubchansky. Pedrillo: Peter Marsh. Osmin: Harry Peeters. Bassa Selim: Christoph Quest. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

I suppose if you were a young, serious-minded director looking for a new, intellectually challenging take on The Importance of Being Earnest, you might decide it was really a drama about disorientation, alienation and identity, and have every epigram delivered like Maeterlinck paraphrasing Schopenhauer. Instead of booming out “A handbag?” like the daughter of a thousand earls, Lady Bracknell would pause for a full 10 seconds, turn slowly away, drop her head and whisper the line like her dying breath, before attempting suicide.

To young, serious-minded Christof Loy, Die Entführung is not an amiable turquerie but a study of the ambiguities, hesitations and frailties of love. Konstanze was in Selim’s arms as often as out of them, and in the middle of Martern aller Arten, though only seconds before he’d crushed a wine glass in rage and bandaged his hand with a napkin before issuing his threat (they were dining tensely en tête-à-tête, he in a dinner jacket, she in a rust-coloured shot silk New Look gown with a red velvet bolero, as Blonde looked nervously on in her maid’s outfit) planted a big, wet kiss on his lips.

The acting was well rehearsed and finely detailed; every movement was clearly planned. The decision to restore nearly all the spoken dialogues usually cut was an interesting one. But the play is too fragile to be staged as modern psychodrama, complete with pregnant pauses. While you could imagine the lines sparkling (and wished they were allowed to), they were delivered with the depressed, falling intonation we’re told in communication seminars to avoid, as it sends people to sleep; the jokes that remained stuck out like a sore thumb.

The only consolation, really, was that Loy hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to give it the full, post 9/11 political treatment. That, he admitted in the programme, would have been an obvious but facile option.

The Sunday matinee cast was too immature, too like a troupe of promising students, to allow the musical interludes (which is what they seemed to be) to counterbalance all the text. By the end of act 2, they were floundering somewhat (things may have been better during the week). The orchestra, under Paul Daniel, was curiously feeble, as if a parti pris of chamber-like playing was taken a step too far.

The staging was visually simple. The action took place on the stage apron, enlarged for the occasion, on a rectangle of dark turquoise tiles and patches of sand (from the crunching sound, probably in fact couscous). There were a few wooden chairs and a table that served as Osmin’s desk or, later, on a Turkish carpet, the dinner table. Curtain and backdrops were simple: blue sky with clouds, wooden blinds.

Behind the apron area, the stage was bare and black. At the rear was an alcove serving as Konstanze’s bedroom, the garden, etc. Costumes were mid-20th century vague, apart from those of the chorus, which were sumptuous reproductions of the kind of multicoloured, brocaded creations seen in orientalist paintings, complete with fringed silk parasols. A pity, then, that they appeared only when strictly required, squashed into two stage-side boxes.

“More Spiel than Sing,” I remarked to my neighbour at the first interval. “Yes, but Loy isn’t Spielberg,” she replied with a grimace.

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