Returning to the COC stage after an absence of nearly 40 years is Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) in a new COC production from Lebanese-Canadian Wajdi Mouawad, a playwright and director whose work is internationally recognized for its moral impulse. His reinterpretation of Mozart’s opera—a piece about relations between Enlightenment-era Europeans and Muslim Turks—was first presented in 2016 at Opéra de Lyon, where the New York Times suggested Mouawad’s artistic vision could be an example of opera becoming an agent of change. Seven performances take place at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on February 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 22, and 24, 2018.
The Abduction from the Seraglio tells the story of Europeans taken captive by a Muslim pasha in the Ottoman Empire and the efforts of their beloveds to rescue them. The possibility of a violent culture clash seems inevitable but Mouawad’s direction avoids caricature and cultural stereotypes, while heightening the humanity of Mozart’s characters and maintaining the integrity of the original score. He has reworked and modernized some of the original text, introduced his own dialogue, and reframes the narrative with a new prologue. In making these changes, Mouawad was motivated by the desire to challenge the confrontational binary of East versus West.
Leading the cast is Canadian Jane Archibald, the COC’s inaugural artist-in-residence, in one of her most acclaimed and favourite roles. She brings her “commanding, compassionate soprano” (New York Times) to the character of Konstanze, which she performed in this production’s 2016 premiere in France. She is joined by rising star Swiss tenor Mauro Peter who makes his Canadian debut as Belmonte, Konstanze’s fiancé, and was praised as “a revelation” (Bachtrack) in a recent performance of the role at La Scala.
Two recent Ensemble Studio graduates return to the COC stage as Konstanze’s fellow captives: soprano Claire de Sévigné is Blonde, a role in which she seemed to “fully flourish” (Bachtrack) at Opernhaus Zürich, and Owen McCausland, with his “ringing tenor tones” (Vancouver Classical Music), sings Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and Blonde’s betrothed.
Croatian bass Goran Jurić is Osmin, the Pasha’s overseer who is given new depth and humanity through Mouawad’s staging details and revised dialogue, and was praised for a “sublime performance” (Toronto Star) as Sarastro in the COC’s 2017 production of The Magic Flute. In the spoken role of the Pasha, Bassa Selim, is Israeli actor Raphael Weinstock.
Last heard at the COC in 1980, The Abduction from the Seraglio is conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Musically, the opera is considered the first of Mozart’s great masterpieces. It’s characterized by the use of unusual instruments such as cymbals, Turkish drums, piccolo flutes and triangles and contains some of the composer’s most beautiful music.
This production of The Abduction from the Seraglio contrasts elegant, 18th-century period costumes by Emmanuelle Thomas with a minimalist, yet sophisticated, set design by Emmanuel Clolus. Lighting design is by Eric Champoux. Revival director Valérie Nègre, a frequent collaborator of Mouawad, stages its Toronto presentation.
All performances of the COC’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio feature the COC Orchestra and Chorus. The opera is sung in German and presented by the COC with English SURTITLES™.
Single tickets for The Abduction from the Seraglio range from $35 – $225 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit coc.ca.
Wajdi Mouawad’s work on Mozart’s ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ is a beautifully ornate piece infused with dashes of political reality. A work that celebrates Mozart at his essence while also providing the audience with an education that far out stretches Mozart’s music score intent.
Wajdi Mouawad states ‘The challenge, then, is to enter an opera that was composed at a moment when European culture was held up as the ultimate source of truth, goodness, and beauty: Osmin is irredeemably appalling, on this view, because he is a Muslim. Bassa Selim is a “good Muslim,” not because there are positive qualities in Islam, but because he has been elevated by the principles of the Enlightenment and his contact with European education. Everything that makes him barbaric and malicious, on the other hand, remains exclusively the provenance of his Muslim identity.’
In a time where the look, age and demographic of opera audiences is changing, Wajdi Mouawad’s reworking of Mozart’s ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ is a wonderful way to dip your foot into the water of opera and leave with motifs that will leave you in deep thought for the rest of the evening. Like the audience in attendance all of the characters in this opera are capable of great love.
Questions like, What happens once Belmonte, Konstanze, Blonde, and Pedrillo return to their homeland? How will they resume their lives after a period of captivity and separation that has so completely transformed their relationships? is asked by Mouawad in closing. Perhaps questions even the most esteemed opera audiences were never left to dwell upon after a piece in the past. These gentle challenges suited the Mouawad’s work and elevated its introspectiveness.
Soprano, Canadian Jane Archibald, as Konstanze provides the audience with grounded emotion executed with ease of command. Claire de Sévigné, as Blonde has wonderful cheeky soprano one liners that lighten up the work, Owen McCausland is the tenor with the mostest as Pedrillo provides the audience with fun cat and mouse chases with his beloved Blonde.
Bass, Goran Jurić’s, Osmin will make your knees quake. His emotional depth and wonderful bass range will leave you open mouthed throughout the production.
Mozart’s ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ is a must see this winter season. The warmth and good tidings exuded by the musical score, effervescent characters dialogue and humour will leave you toasty and looking forward to more COC productions in the spring.