Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is perhaps the most difficult of his major operas to bring off successfully. I dealt with some of the issues in a review of Hans Neuenfel’s production so I won’t repeat myself here. Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïff’s production for the Aix-en-Provence Festival, filmed in 2004, has several interesting features that cast an interesting light on the main characters. The most drastic is the treatment of Osmin. Here he’s rather dignified and far from the fat, brutal, somewhat comic lecher of convention. That side of his character is conveyed by five, mostly silent, sidekicks. These guys are everywhere, portraying both Osmin’s baser nature and the “walls have eyes and ears” aspects of the story. They are made to look rather dim and get some fairly funny business to play with. Next we have Bassa Selim played by a dancer. This makes it easier to portray him as sensitive but not a wimp through the use of extremely virile choreography. Clever! Finally, both Pedrillo and Blondchen are sung by people of colour. That can’t be a coincidence. It certainly puts a very interesting spin on the confrontation between Osmin and Blondchen about how English girls are different from Turks. These ideas are played out against rather dramatically colourful sets and costumes with lots of comic business to make a fast paced and enjoyable romp that makes one think just enough about the underlying meanings.
Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is a problematic opera. It’s got some great music but the libretto is pretty weak and its depiction of Turks is pretty unflattering. Maybe it seemed edgy less than a hundred years after the Ottomans besieged Vienna but today it just seems mildly embarrassing. Fortunately it’s a singspiel with dialogue rather than opera with recitatives so it’s fairly easy to play with the story line. For his 1998 production Stuttgart at the Staatsoper Stuttgart, Hans Neuenfels goes much further. He double each of the singers with an actor and pretty much rewrites the dialogue. He also introduces an element of metatheatre. This is a performance and everyone knows it. For example when Pedrillo is asked how he’s going to get hold of a ladder for the escape scene he replies that he’ll use the one they always use in this opera.
Richard Strauss’ last opera Die Liebe der Danae has a pretty chequered production history. It was scheduled to premiere at the 1944 Salzburg Festival but that was scuppered when all theatres were closed following the July bomb plot. A special exception was made for Die Liebe der Danae in that a single, public dress rehearsal was allowed at the conclusion of which Strauss is said to have bid farewell to the Wiener Philharmoniker with the words quoted in the title. It then remained unperformed until the 1952 festival where it got its true premier followed by productions over the next two years in most major European houses. After that it pretty much dropped out of the repertoire with occasional performances in Germany but apparently the production recorded at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2011 is only the sixteenth production all told. It’s a bit hard to see why it has been so neglected. The music is perfectly good Strauss though maybe it lacks a headline aria of the “Es gibt ein Reich” variety. Maybe the subject matter was just too frivolous for the immediately post-war world; it’s described as “A Joyful Mythology in Three Acts”. In any event, I was happy to discover it.