Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Abduction, Cosi, Tito

The following is a post I contributed to the Yahoo Opera Study e-mail group.

I've got three more (well, two and a third) Mozart operas under my belt.

The *Abduction from the Seraglio* I watched was performed by Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the direction of Zubin Mehta. Stealing the show (I suspect this happens a lot) were Osmin, played by Kurt Rydl, and Blonde played by Patrizia Ciofi. (Now I know where "Blondie" comes from in *The Abduction of Figaro*...maybe this opera is the source for the pirate, but I doubt that). The stage used some simple but colorful backdrops, mostly stained-glass windows and sliding doors, with each different scene having a different configuration. I must say I've come to appreciate these more simple sets.

This Abduction has Belmonte arriving on a little row boat, hardly big enough for travel on the high seas, though we learn later he has a bigger boat waiting. Added to this production is a large crocodile, which appears to be a pet of Osmin's. Osmin enters with his part in the opening duet with a bucket from which he feeds the croc. It's a neat touch.

All of the singers were attractive and had wonderful voices. The extended scene between Osmin and Blonde is lots of fun, where the tough blowhard Osmin is turned into a child in a tantrum. The Pasha is a serious but courteous gentleman.

I got through about the first third of the Peter Sellars' *Cosi fan tutte*, with it's modern setting at the cafe named "Despinas." This was my second Cosi, having done the La Scala version months ago. About 15 minutes into it, I started to feel kinda foolish. I don't know why, but I was relieved nobody saw me watching it. I don't mind old operas and plays and such being translated into modern settings, but with the angst and the groping and Despina crying and so on, I just couldn't finish it. Luckily this was a Netflix rental, so it wasn't much of a monetary loss. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll be able to appreciate it better, but this production was just too jarring visually for me.

So next, I kinda skipped ahead and watched the Glyndebourne production of *La Clemenza Do Tito*. I did a little reading in Charles Osborne's book *The Complete Operas of Mozart* (Greenberg quotes this book in some of his lectures - I found it in a Half-Price Books store in San Antonio this last spring), and Osborne doesn't seem to think much of it. It was written while Mozart was also working on *The Magic Flute*. Two of the main characters, Sextus and Annius, are soprano roles written for castrati; these are now, of course, pants roles (the women wore body armor but it was hard to pretend they were really men - and -uh oh! - there was some same sex kissing going on [not that there's anything wrong with that]). Titus is really a swell guy, always expecting the best of folks, and is surprised and torn to learn that Sextus tried to kill him.

This production, too, used pretty minimal sets, basic shapes (well, except for maybe the flying saucer), and lighting that reminded me of film noir movies with its shadows and light. I really like the music, though I can't say any one part of it stands out. I suppose being sandwiched in between Cosi and Flute that, by comparison, it doesn't shine as bright as its neighbors in time. But I liked it, and would pay to see it live.

Pretty fun stuff, these Mozart operas.


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