Cordoliani’s staging of Die Entführung at Rheims

Sometimes one is at a production which takes an innovative approach to a familiar work and during the earlier part of the evening the predominant response is one of irritation, whether this results from the weight of tradition affecting one’s judgement or because one finds it hard to come to terms with the novel perspective. Then one begins to appreciate certain sequences which make their mark. Finally, if one is lucky, the entire presentation begins to cohere and one leaves the theatre entirely convinced by the approach.

So it was with Emmanuelle Cordoliani’s production of Die Entführung which reached Rheims after being presented at various French provincial opera houses. The director’s decision to set the piece in a Vienna cabaret in 1920 administered by Pasha Selim, with Konstanze as his captive star turn and Belmonte as a guest singer on the search for her, seemed somewhat gratuitous, particularly as the night club staff and the bourgeoisie frequenting it were present on the stage almost throughout the first half, observing and responding to proceedings. True, the conjuring antics of Osmin, the insolent dance routines of Blonde and the use of puppetry for the Act Two trio were entertaining but were they anything more? And was it necessary to interpolate into the show extracts from the 1001 Nights tales (with even a snippet of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade) to entice guests to a special private event at “The Seraglio”?

Certainly, the cabaret environment facilitated the plausible feminist interpretation of Constanze’s arias lamenting the fate of women, but the most powerful scene, that in which she resolutely resists the half-naked Pasha’s advances, was presented in an abstract setting with no hint of entertainment. And, in the second half of the performance, the features of the cabaret remained off-stage until the final denouement. Then the now bedraggled guests, in a stupor induced by alcohol or drugs, observe from a cramped space at the side the Pasha’s volte face, liberating his captives and revealing a humanity and compassion so often lacking in Western Society. This single image perfectly summed up the core idea of the production; the triviality of cabaret entertainment had been converted into a powerful lesson on morality.

Maybe Mme Cordoliani’s approach was somewhat too complex and the decision to have the spoken text delivered in half a dozen or so languages served no obvious purpose. But this was an evening of rich, imaginative theatre that never betrayed the Mozart original.

Stéphane Mercoral as the Pasha had a charismatic presence. The young singers, Blaise Rantoanina (Belmonte), Nils Gustén (Osmin), Elisa Cinna (Blonde) César Arrieta (Pedrillo) acted their parts with energy and conviction and, though vocally not yet of international standing, coped well with the demands of the score. Katharine Dain, as Konstanze, was outstanding, with purity of tone, agility in projecting the coloratura passages, but also – and most importantly – making every vocal inflexion meaningful dramatically.

The conducting of Roberto Forès Veses and the playing of the local orchestra lacked finesse and was at times rather pedestrian but this too improved as the performance progressed; so, at the end, the overriding impression was that of Mozart and a bold staging combining to make an emotionally moving and aesthetically satisfying evening.