Music of 'Abduction' outshines production


POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

As Mozart's love affair with Constanze Weber thrived in 1781, he frenetically composed “;Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail”; (”;The Abduction from the Seraglio”;), based on Gottleib Stephanie Jr.'s libretto. In the story, the female lead's name was also Konstanze, and Mozart took particular pleasure in crafting a “;rescue”; opera around her.





        On Stage: 4 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall


Tickets: $29 to $120


Call: 596-7858


This is the opera that Emperor Joseph II judged as too full of notes (remember the movie “;Amadeus”;?), and that the famous German poet Goethe praised for its music, but not its German text.

In Hawaii Opera Theatre's English-language production of the “;Abduction,”; the sound of the words also seems odd. Andrew Porter's translation sometimes makes the music-text relationship clumsy and confusing. But the good thing is that the translated spoken sections, characteristic of singspiel (the German comic opera of the time), allow us to experience the story more directly, without too much glancing between subtitles and the stage.

“;Abduction”; is also a “;Turkish”; opera in which exotic visual and musical elements make the story more attractive: belly dancers and former Miss Hawaiis in the roles of wives in the harem make the spectacle more spicy. But, alas, it was a little painful to see belly dancing set to Mozart's music. It really doesn't match.

Although the spectacle at times overwhelmed the event, the wonderful music is always a winner. Conductor Robert Wood did a great job pulling out all the musical nuances so typical of Mozart with clarity and taste.

The story involves six main characters: two couples, the nobles Konstanze and Belmonte, and servants Blonde and Pedrillo; Osmin, guardian of the Palace; and the Pasha Salim. The pasha kidnaps the British Konstanze, Blonde and Pedrillo and the Spanish Belmonte rescues them. Osmin is always mean, whereas the pasha evolves from a chauvinist tyrant to an understanding, benevolent and wise leader.

Mozart made the pasha a nonsinging part, as he already had two tenors and a bass. In the HOT production, film star Jason Scott Lee delivers Salim's lines with strength and presence.

The rest of the cast, a perfectly matched group, had the privilege of delivering the beautiful notes (never too many). Especially pure and clear was soprano Audrey Elizabeth Luna, whose phrasing and breathing made every line a true Mozartian experience. She was a perfect Blonde, not only for her remarkable vocal range (from A flat to a high E) and excellent coloratura, but also for her spirited performance and her natural easiness on stage. We saw her last year in the role of Juliette and I surely hope to see her performing again in Honolulu.

Rachelle Durkin is also an excellent coloratura soprano. She aced Konstanze's difficult aria “;Marten aller Arten,”; in which the noblewoman declares to the pasha that she is not afraid of death and torture. Modulations and soft phrases, along with bravura passages, were not an issue for Durkin.

Another brilliant performance was showcased by tenor George Dyer, Konstanze's love partner, Belmonte. In his first aria he sings about his beloved, immediately proving the caliber of his musical and technical skills. That was Mozart's favorite aria of the opera. In a letter to his father the composer wrote, “;You see the trembling - the faltering - you see how his throbbing breast begins to swell; this I have expressed with a crescendo.”; And the sighing, he expressed with mute first violins and flute playing in unison, delicately performed by the HOT orchestra.

Bass Ashley Howard Wilkinson in the role of the consistently grumpy and nasty Osmin delighted the audience with his deep and dark voice, especially in the difficult quick low passages at the beginning of the opera.

Tenor Jeffrey Halili in the role of Pedrillo played the part quite athletically, and sang in a pleasant and subtle fashion. The best of his singing, and indeed the best part of the opera, came in the quartet of the second part - fine singing from both couples in an unprecedented dramatic and musical number that only Mozart could devise.


Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.