Fine singing and Mozartean fireworks in Emmanuel Music’s “Abduction”
Fireworks and fine singing were plentiful Saturday night in Emmanuel Music’s performance of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio.
Mozart’s first big operatic success, Abduction is technically a singspiel, with spoken dialogue alternating with sets and arias. Emmanuel Music chose to present the dialogue in English, which jarred at first, but made sense; Abduction was intended to be a popular opera, not opaque, and it would have been difficult to fit titles in Emmanuel Church. Thanks to the singer’s clear and forward enunciation of dialogue, the plot unfolded as easily as if it had been staged.
The story is straightforward: Konstanze, her maid Blonde, and Blonde’s beau Pedrillo have been kidnapped by pirates and sold to the Pasha. The Pasha then falls in love with Konstanze, but she is holding out for her betrothed, Belmonte. Osmin, the Pasha’s ill-tempered servant, falls for Blonde, but his efforts too are rejected. Presently, Belmonte arrives, and, with Pedrillo, hatches a plan to rescue the women. The plan goes awry, but the Pasha, in a generous act of forgiveness, lets all four go.
Tenor Charles Blandy brought all the requisite grace and tenderness to the role of Belmonte. Importantly, he also found the right delivery in both dialogue and singing to convey a heroic air: his Belmonte is not simply a lovelorn aristocrat. His last act aria, “Ich baue ganza auf deine Starke,” which also called for command of florid singing, was particularly fine.
Konstanze, Belmonte’s beloved, is a fiendish role. It rolls together lyric, coloratura, and dramatic demands all in one. Barbara Kilduff sailed through the part. Given that Kilduff already has a nearly thirty-year career behind her, the youthfulness of her tone was astonishing. Her entrance aria, “Ach ich liebte,” shimmered with altitudinous coloratura, and she attacked “Martern aller Arten” with all the dramatic weight befitting the aria. True, a few elements fell slightly short: a pushed sound at the bottom of the range, and a slight shortness of breath, but the singing was stellar in general.
Teresa Wakim’s Blonde was an equally commanding performance. Wakim’s soprano was lighter and brighter than Kilduff’s, befitting her role, and boasted immense control and flexibility in her upper register. She was particularly effective in her first aria, “Durch Zartlichkeit und Schmeichein,” her voice sailing up to the top notes with wonderful ease and lingering for some crystalline staccato.
As Osmin, Donald Wilkinson displayed a deep, incisive bass-baritone. Jason McStoots, as his enemy and rival Pedrillo, was more of a puzzle. His characterization was spot on, as the tentative but capable servant who actually gets the rescue effort accomplished, but his tenor sounded uneven. It is an ample instrument, easily filling the hall, and the tone is appealingly open. But the highest notes seemed just out of reach. On the other hand, “In Mohrenland gefangen war,” Pedrillo’s simple pizzicato-backed serenade, was a standout, abetted by the modest range and McStoots’s delicate phrasing. Richard Dyer was suitably authoritative in the speaking role of the Pasha.
For the most part, Ryan Turner’s conducting was full of energy and in loving sympathy with his singers. One or two moments, however, just seemed strange, not least dissecting “Martern aller Arten” into various themes and slowing them down as though for display. Although the aria emerges from this treatment more multifaceted, it also becomes rather elephantine.
Turner’s buoyancy was generally a wonderful asset, for example in the series of solos before the ending chorus, “Bassa Selim lebe lange.” Some conductors dilate the solos, but Turner was properly quick: these are young people itching to get on with their lives. Finally, the Emmanuel Chorus under director Nathan Troup deserves praise for their disciplined and energetic performance.
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