Produced by: West Bay Opera
Featuring: Michael Desnoyers, Kevin Thompson, Tapan Bhat, Chelsea Hollow, Nikki Einfeld, Eugene Brancoveanu
Conducted by: José Luis Moscovich
Stage directed by: Eugene Brancoveanu
Running time: 180 minutes, two intermissions
When: February 13, 15, 21, 22, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets: $40-$75 (discounts available). Call 650-424-9999 or visit www.WBOpera.org.
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the Seraglio' in Palo Alto
There was a lot to like about West Bay Opera's production of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio," but one of my favorite moments was early in the first act.
Tenor Michael Desnoyers, as Belmonte, has arrived at Pasha Selim's palace and is singing and wondering how he's going to get in to see his love, Konstanze.
All of a sudden there is a deep bass filling the auditorium, and we read on the supratitles that it is Osim, the Pasha's guard and servant, singing about how one should behave when a true love is found.
Sitting on the aisle, I realized the singing was coming from behind me and coming closer, but I kept my eyes on the stage and the supratitles, till finally I looked up and up, and up because that deep bass was coming from Kevin Thompson, who is huge, walking down the aisle to the stage. Not fat huge, but tall huge. Scary huge.
And, a fabulous singer and actor whose voice was consistently powerful and who managed to make Osim both amusing as I think was Mozart's intent and scary. Thompson is no chubby joke he looks buff and in shape is there an NBA team somewhere missing its center?
That dance of humor and power was perhaps most obvious when Osim is getting a massage, from Blonde, one of three prisoners captured by pirates and purchased as slaves by the pasha. Osim is lying on a table we eventually realize is actually another slave, on his hands and knees, supporting this huge man. Osim is trying to get Blonde to submit to him, but she is having none of it. She is an Englishwoman, born to be free!
My guess is the young Mozart (25 years old when the opera debuted in 1782) meant Osim to be a man of all bluster and no real power, a chubby poseur, but Thompson is very imposing, and looks like he could crush skulls between his finger and thumb.
Yet Thompson makes it work anyway, with a fine performance as an actor, getting befuddled by this tiny (compared to him) woman. Fine performance.
This was the first time West Bay Opera has staged "The Abduction from the Seraglio," and it deserves much praise.
For one thing, the orchestra, conducted by West Bay Opera's general director, José Luis Moscovich, was excellent throughout. Using an orchestral reduction by Tony Burke and squashed into the Lucie Stern Theatre's pit, the orchestra sounded great through the entire, long opera. (This is the opera about which Emperor Joseph II said it had "very many notes.")
It is the tale of Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman, trying to rescue his love, Konstanze, and Pedrillo, his servant, and Blonde, Konstanze's maid, from the pasha's seraglio. Belmonte arrives, gets in with some help from Pedrillo, we see that both Konstanze and Blonde have protected their virtue, which is briefly wondered about by Belmonte and Pedrillo, who are punished for their lack of faith. A plan for escape is hatched, acted upon, and fails. The four infidels can expect to be executed, but then the pasha decides to take the high ground and as an act of nobility, releases them.
Those are the key details but this is an opera, and whatever the libretto has to say, the melody goes on until the composer runs out of ideas, and Mozart never ran out of ideas.
So the music washed over us, delightfully, for a good, long time. Mozart. Fabulous.
Chelsea Hollow was charming and amusing and in lovely voice as Blonde, delivering both Mozart's complex melodies and his jokes with considerable stage panache. Desnoyers as Belmonte and Bhat as Pedrillo both sang well; Bhat carried his role as an actor with perhaps a smidgen more skill. Nikki Enfield was rather less warm than I might have liked as Konstanze, and seemed a bit more harsh in certain complex melodies than I liked. Still, she was in quite good voice otherwise. All of the duets and quartets were fabulous.
Callie Floor's costume design was fascinating and beautiful, with each character's costume increasing the power of the opera's story and fantasy. Jean-François Revon's set was fun and informed the story making.
The chorus was called upon to do many things, from milling about or sleeping on the floor as palace denizens to hanging from the walls (prisoners?) of Jean-François Revon's excellent palace set.
And, of course, the chorus delivers that fabulous, exciting bit at the end "Long live Pasha Selim," which is one of my favorite short tunes in opera.
I saw the third of four performances of "The Abduction from the Seraglio," and the Lucie Stern Theatre was packed sold out. Which tells me that if you like opera, you would do well to get your tickets soon for Gounod's "Faust," which West Bay Opera is to perform May 22, 24, 30 and 31.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org