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Mozart: Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail / Davies, Masterson, Watson, Kuhn

Mozart / Davies / London Philharmonic Orch / Kuhn
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 102310  
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lillian WatsonValerie MastersonRyland DaviesWillard White,   ... 
Conductor:  Gustav Kuhn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraGlyndebourne Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Belmonte – Ryland Davies
Constanze – Valerie Masterson
Blonde – Lillian Watson
Osmin – Willard White
Pedrillo – James Hoback
Selim – Joachim Bissmeier

Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Gustav Kuhn, conductor

Peter Wood, stage director
William Dudley, stage designer
Robert Bryan, lighting designer

Recorded live from the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1980

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish
Running time: 143 mins Read more /> No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

This is a reissue of a 1980 Glyndebourne Entführung that was only first issued (by Arthaus Musik) in 2005. As the Overture plays, a sentry marches in place and across the stage to the rhythm of the music, eventually joined by other sentries who also march in rhythm. Pasha Selim’s house actually looks Turkish. The costumes are mostly traditional. After Belmonte’s opening monologue, he actually sings to Osmin and the latter puts on his best scowl. All the characters are dressed more or less as you’d imagine them to be, the sets are recognizable and colorful, and the voices are all splendid. No one is dressed like a nun, a Nazi, a drag queen, or a clown. The sets do not look like a prison, a junkyard, or the psycho ward of a hospital. And the singers are all splendid, as well as splendidly suited for their respective roles.

What the heck happened between 1980 and today, where we’ve sunk so low that opera productions are judged not so much on musical merits but whether or not the scenery moves while the singers perform, how bizarre the director can make things look, how far from what the composer and librettist intended they can make it, and both singers and extras seem to be in a perpetuum mobile throughout the opera? I wish I knew. Those Who Know tell me you can’t turn back the clock, that we’re stuck with opera the way it is now. I say whoopee for them. As long as videos like this exist, we don’t need to be stuck with it—and there’s no reason why directors of today couldn’t learn from the marvelous production that Peter Wood created here.

The main reason I took a chance on this DVD is that I’ve always enjoyed the singing of three of the principals, namely Masterson, Watson, and Davies. Jamaican-British bass White was in some ways “the girl with the curl”: When he was good, he was very, very good, and happily he is magnificent here, all the way down to the bottom of his range. Masterson, one of the most accomplished British soprano leggieros of all time, is one slightly strained high note shy of perfection in “Martern aller Arten,” one of the most technically difficult arias in the Mozart canon, and flawless elsewhere. Davies, an outstanding Welsh tenor better known in the UK than the U.S., is perhaps a shade loud as Belmonte (his voice was growing in size during these years), but the voice rings true from his very first note and he sings all the runs and trills. Hooray! A tenor who doesn’t need time to warm up! Watson, one of the better-known Blondes of her time (she sang it at Salzburg in 1988 and also under Solti), delivers her usual excellence, and tenor Hoback as Pedrillo reveals a firmer-than-usual voice for his role.

Gustav Kuhn, whose work I didn’t know at all, turns out to have been a pretty darn good conductor. While not as sprightly as some other recordings of Entfühung I’ve heard, it is sprightly enough. He keeps things moving, and light, and buoyant.

One of the more interesting things about this performance is that White plays Osmin with great seriousness, not for laughs the way Fernando Corena used to. I found that this did not rob the opera of its humor but, rather, made the whole situation and his character’s interaction with Pedrillo, Blonde, and Belmonte seem more realistic. Yes, this is a comedy, but it has its serious side. There is nothing really funny about “Traurigkeit” or “Martern aller Arten,” and in “Ich gehe, doch rate ich dir” and the “Vivat Bacchus” duet, it seemed funnier, in a way, that Blonde and Pedrillo were the ones smiling up their sleeves. You didn’t really need to see Osmin overplay his hand to make these scenes effective. One funny bit of stage business comes when Pedrillo gets Osmin drunk. The latter collapses on Pedrillo’s back, and somehow he manages to drape Osmin over his shoulders, pick up the two big wine bottles, and walk offstage carrying all three. In the middle of act II, director Wood chose to perform Blonde’s and Pedrillo’s arias in the reverse order. It is not that big or upsetting a difference.

Error in DVD: Right after “Martern aller arten,” it says “End of Act I.” which is incorrect (the booklet is correct). The only problem with this DVD, as usual with Glyndebourne live performances then or now, is the unusually over-reverberant sound (apparently, this is one thing that simply cannot be controlled when recordings are made, either visual or audio-only). Aside from the fact that Davies’s voice is one size too large for Belmonte, this is the finest vocal quartet I’ve ever heard sing this opera, and the performance as a whole is a delight from start to finish. Bravo for Peter Wood, Gustav Kuhn, and this talented cast! Heartily recommended.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K 384 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lillian Watson (Soprano), Valerie Masterson (Soprano), Ryland Davies (Tenor),
Willard White (Bass), James Hoback (Tenor)
Conductor:  Gustav Kuhn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria 

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