Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Stuttgart, 1998 (Part 1: Double Fun)

A lot of folks have already written thoughtfully about this Hans Neuenfels' Die Entführung aus dem Serail , so I will stick with some observations that I think are my own and that I think no one else has pointed out, or at least not dwelt on as much. In this production, Neuenfels has cast each role (save one) with both a singer and an actor. But not in a way that you might be expecting. 

Konstanze and Belmonte 1 (center) have decided to die for love.
No one else thinks this is a very good idea.

First off, I like this performance. A lot! I like the format of double-casting. (For the sake of clarity (?) I will refer to the singing cast as 1, and the speaking cast as 2.) The opera itself quickly goes beyond realistic anyway, and I appreciate the self-awareness in this production.  Instead of just being self-conscious, let’s go all the way and be consciously self-conscious; and let’s make a point of letting the audience know that we know. 

One of the fascinations of this staging is that the singers and actors on stage know they are in an opera (Singspiel) and we know it, but to them, the drama is very real. A lot of the dramatic tension is based on the fact that it is a "sing-play" as the Germans so aptly named the genre.  Each singer and speaker not only interacts with their character counterpart, but also with each other singer and actor. There is no easy clear "division of responsibility" here. 

This scene and aria (Konstanze!) give a good idea
how the double cast is handled, as well as 
how "self-conscious" they are. 

In addition to the staging itself, the video production adds more self-references. While mostly filmed in front of an audience, there are clearly sections they redid in an empty house. There are places where I am pretty sure we are seeing more than what the audience saw. During the Act 2 Quartet, we see the initial image of Belmonte(s) in front of the huge butterfly. And during the big Act 3 Duet, we see Konstanze’s snowstorm (from Welche Wechsel). There are many times when you’d expect applause or laughter from an audience. This is most unnerving right at the end of the opera. (More about that later.)

This is a production that you either dismiss, then walk away from; or you keep thinking about it, trying to figure out what that meant.  For example, right before the abduction, Belmonte 2 and Blonde 2 lean out a window. She yells to the others and he shushes her. She is incensed by his tone and he says (in English), “Excuse me.” Actually there are several points when others speak English to Blonde 2 (but never to Blonde 1. I guess she understands German better.) 

This is a continuation of the scene above.

As usual, I find I have more to say, but I think I've filled enough space for today. So I will continue in the next post. 

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