Many operas arise from antiquated dramaturgy, but often character types and plot contrivances have somehow echoed into our own time. But singspiels - the operetta-like form that spawned Abduction - seem long buried, leaving us to puzzle over a number of odd features. The pivotal Selim character doesn't sing at all. Some arias have long orchestral introductions that stage directors rarely know how to handle. Then there's the eternal bugaboo - spoken dialogue that needs to be heard in a large, unamplified house and usually inspires cloyingly artificial delivery.
Conceptually, the production couldn't have been stronger. The film footage worked beautifully. Costumes were sumptuous and color-coordinated. A platform built around the orchestra allowed singers to have closer contact with the audience. Yet it was all about atmosphere with too little characterization. Stage director Robert B. Driver is best with character-based comedy, but seemed to lose his compass with the sillier, hyper-animated manner of this Abduction production. It played like children's theater. Staging problems were solved by adding some harem girls, who, in fact, dispersed rather than focused the opera's fragile narrative. Elaborate headgear made sure facial features couldn't be read and caricatures would be maintained. Even when singers were physically closer to their listeners, there seemed to be nothing for them to confide. As good as the singing mostly was, nobody commanded his or her role.
And they needed commanding. Though the characters are all one-dimensional types - two romantic couples, one comic, one serious, plus a nemesis or two - they require personalities, almost like modern cabaret performers. As humble as singspiel supposedly was, virtuosic singers had to have been at hand, given what stratospheric coloratura Mozart wrote for several characters, or subterranean low notes for the character of Osmin.
As Konstanze, Elizabeth Zharoff had touching vocal moments with her aria "Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose." As Blonde, Elizabeth Reiter managed some sexy comic turns. But both only kept up with the elaborate writing rather than delivering a vocal knockout. Antonio Lozano as Belmonte and Krystian Adam as Pedrillo were vocally pleasing but, for all their physicality, didn't use the music to tell you who they were. As Osmin, Per Bach Nissen had enough comic business to fill his scenes, but like so much in this production, the humor lacked the solid spine that can come from a central characterization.
My happiest Abduction encounters (which obviously didn't include Sunday's matinee) have been in English-language productions in smaller theaters in which neither voices nor humor needed to be pushed in order to communicate. At least the orchestra was in fine form, even though I didn't sense that conductor Corrado Rovaris has any burning affection for this opera.
The Abduction From the Seraglio
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto: Christoph Friedrich Bretzner. Directed by Robert B. Driver, set designed by Guia Buzzi, and video design by Lorenzo Curone.
Belmonte . . . Antonio Lozano
Konstanze . . . Elizabeth Zharoff
Osmin . . . Per Bach Nissen
Bassa Selim . . . Peter Dolder
Pedrillo . . . Krystian Adam
Blonde . . . Elizabeth Reiter
Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus and Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris conducting.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday,
8 p.m. Friday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.
Tickets: $8-$225. 215-893-1018 or www.operaphila.org.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com.