Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Die Entfürhung aus Hangar 7 – The Review

From the folks who brought you La Traviata in the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, this Servus TV production, which is part of this summer's Salzberger Festpielen, is novel and pleasant. But ultimately, it’s more of a spectacle than a drama-with-music. 

Clearly, from an acoustic standpoint, an airplane hangar is a less-than-optimal setting for the singers, and ensemble work is occasionally dodgy. On the other hand, given the obstacles, the singers do remarkably well. Of course, such flaws are part of the excitement of live performance. The acting and singing range from OK to quite good and the visuals are almost always fun, fascinating, or at least interesting. All that is to say it’s a fun cool experiment, and if it gets more people even superficially interested in opera, then job well done.

The novelty of the setting made it difficult for me to get involved in the action; however the modern structure of Hangar 7 gives it all a nice avant-garde fashion-forward flavor. A lot of dialog is cut (not a bad idea in any setting) and adjusted (a bit), but the changes, while modernizing the story, pretty much trivialize the central dilemma. Entfürhung’s plot is problematic at best. Changing setting to the fashion world puts the power struggle into a 21st century framework. There’s the harem (the models), the servants (photographers, stylists, lighting crew, and seamstresses), and the prisoners, (well, hmmm...)

Adrian Marthaler sets the plot as Konstanze’s daydream about a handsome man—Selim (is he really a fashion designer, or is that part of her fantasy, too?)—she sees at the opera. Osmin is the muscle of the outfit—literally; he’s always working out. Selim wants Konstanze to be his muse, and to be honest, other than not loving him, it’s not clear why she thinks that’s a bad thing. She doesn’t seem too thrilled with Belmonte (that’s a theme in many productions of this opera), and Selim doesn’t seem to be physically restraining her from leaving. 

Pedrillo and Blonde are employed by Selim as a general gopher, and a stylist, respectively, and there doesn’t seem to be anything holding them there besides a paycheck. Belmonte, of course, is tracking Konstanze. But does she want to be found/rescued? The answer to this and other questions often addressed in this opera do not really figure in this production. Like I said, it's as much (or more) about the setting than the opera itself.

Some of the staging seems forced—again because this production is more about the novel setting than the opera itself—but I think the point here is a rescue opera placed in an airport. We get lots of nice shots of Konstanze singing while on high walkways and Belmonte traverses most of Hangar 7 during the course of his three arias. 

The Pedrillo/Belmonte/Osmin trio works least well staging-wise, but I think that’s true in most productions. Here, it’s not clear how he is actually keeping them from going anywhere. Musically fun, the trio necessitates a lot of seemingly pointless backing and forthing before the tenors triumph over Osmin. However, during the “doubting” section of the Act 2 quartet, Belmonte and Konstanze take a seat in the cocktail lounge to talk through their issues. They are joined by Blonde and Pedrillo who continue their argument while climbing over sofas and tables.

"What did you just call me?" 
(Act 2 Quartet)
Javier Camerena (silky-smooth and lyrical; he even manages Ich baue ganz—which has gotten the best of many a fine tenor—without getting too gargly) and Rebecca Nelsen (a spitfirey and vocally assured Blonde) are the vocal standouts. Thomas Ebenstein* sounds good as long as he is not trying to match the other singers for power—he’s best in his ballad in Act 3. Desirée Rancatore is good, but not nearly as vocally satisfying as Ms. Nelsen. (Ms. Nelsen’s also a formidable Konstanze.) Although Kurt Rydl has had better vocal days, his low notes still grumble out impressively.

Once again, we find that TV announcers are annoying all over the world. Sunnyi Melles chats a bit with Alexander Pereira between the acts. She is an actress, and a professor at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts, so I would think she’d know better. I didn’t know you could be fatuous in German too. “Act 2 lies behind us. But where is the journey heading?” Bleah!

All that being said, I recommend checking out this broadcast at Servus TV (it's also at U-toob in a not-so-great transfer). It's a fun way to spend 2 hours, and it will probably never show up in a commercial release. Meanwhile, here are a few more scenes/moments I thought were fun:
  • The camera tracking a woman who is lip-synching one of Belmonte’s arias along with him as she walks through the airport.
  • Belmonte being followed by cameras as he wanders through a private luxury jet (Selim’s?)
  • Blonde using a makeup brush as a microphone for Welche wonne, welche lust (or was that just in the rehearsal photo?)
  • Pedrillo singing Frisch zum Kampfe while climbing into a fighter plane.
  • Osmin tying the lovers to airplane propellers.
  • Selim driving a Hummer.

* Fun opera trivia fact: Thomas Ebenstein has also appeared as Pedrillo in Calixto Bieito's infamous staging of Entfürhung at the Komische Oper

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