Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Abduction From the Seraglio

Ambur Braid, Lawrence Wilfiord (photo by Bruce Zinger)
I Need a Hero
by Shannon Christy

At some point one wonders why the cavemen bothered to paint on their walls.  Theories abound but I have always been convinced that it was boredom.  Art to a large sense is a desire to alleviate the pain and monotony of routine.  In this sense Opera Atelier’s production of Abduction From The Seraglio is just that, a relief from the minutiae of life.

Abduction From The Seraglio is about the kidnapping of three youths by a Turkish Pasha who installs them in his seraglio or harem and a rescue attempt by their friend.  It is about the emotions, and especially the passions of life in youth and the mercy of a foreigner with plenty of opportunity for humour.  I have always walked a fine line with Mozart’s humour.  On one hand it can seem to stretch new boundaries and eliminate innate prejudices but on the other hand it can be as the American comedian Bill Hicks would say, a lot of purple-headed dick jokes.  I tend to prefer it when new boundaries are stretched but this production seems more in tune with purple-headed dick jokes. 

Director Marshall Pynkoski set a great humouristic scene during the overture where he introduces us to the characters and their personalities.  Belmonte (Lawrence Wiliford) is left alone on the ship, half-dead from fear.  Although he is the only armed passenger, he manages to fight the least and coward the most.  The Turks were not impressed, did not think he was worth much anyway and left him there.

Mr Pynkoski does all the necessary things in creating the scenes, introducing us to the characters, and fielding the stage with talented performers.  We witness these same characters display a range of emotions from shivering with fear at the very real prospect of being put to death at the hands of the Pasha for being caught trying to escape, to celebrating because they are being released by the same Pasha as an act of revenge to show his superior virtues over his Christian foes. In every instance the jokes are safe and when given a choice Mr Pynkoski always tilts towards the silly.  For instance, at one point when Osmin (Gustav Andreassen), the gate keeper, is singing about how nothing goes on behind his back Pedrillo, (Adam Fisher), and Osmin’s wife Blonde, (Carla Huhtanner), are fucking doggy style on his balcony and directly behind him.  It may be a cheap laugh but it is probably exactly how Mozart would have liked it.  

The set, by Gerard Gauci, and the costumes, by Margaret Lamb, are like a bubble of carbon in a light beer, a brief effect that leaves no lasting impression.  The set is an interpretation of an Ottoman palace with bright colours and intricate geometric designs on enormous doors, or a posh image of a garden.  These correspond well with the bright coloured and flashy costumes parading on the stage. 

Conductor, David Fallis, kept the tempo and carefully modulated his orchestra to support the performers on stage.  During the second set, he even deliberately increased the volume of the orchestra when the chorus sounded like it was having difficulty remaining in synch.  The music in this piece is to accompany the vocals.  The composition is not particularly challenging but it certainly was pleasantly executed.

Likewise the performers, went through the motions and did seem to be having a good time especially when they were engaging with the audience, such as when Mr Fisher laments about cowardice or Ms Huhtanen speculates about Konstanze's  fidelity to Belmonte over the Pasha Selim's desires.  Overall none of them did something that made a lasting impression. They all performed well, they will make you laugh at one time or another, and then they will fade from your memory leaving you wondering what you did the previous night.

Gustav Andreassen as Osmin has a bass voice that is impressive, especially when he goes into his aria over his desired forms of executions for young men sneaking into the harem. Ambur Braid as Konstanze  has a wonderful aria towards the end of the second set that illustrates her range. Adam Fisher (Pedrillo) and Carla Huhtanen, (Blonde), are certainly entertaining to listen to but their contributions are more notable for their ability to engage with the audience as noted above.

If you find yourself bored and looking for something to do between now and November 2nd please check out this show.  There is a good chance that you will like it but there is an equally good chance you may not know why. 

Abduction From the Seraglio continues to November 2

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