Is Masterly  
By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: Opera San José

L-to-R Ashraf Sewailan, as Osmin and Matthew Grills as Belmonte

SAN JOSÉ, CA – Opera San José, (OSJ) opened its 35th Season at the California Theatre, on September 15th, with WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART’s DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL, (The Abduction from the Seraglio), a MOZART’s Singspiel with a lot of history.

In l781, on learning that the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, the sole ruler of the Habsburg lands and the first ruler of the Austrian dominions was planning to establish a Singspiel Theatre in Vienna, MOZART was keen to secure an imperial commission by writing a work for the theatre.

In the l700’s  the Singspiel, the equivalent of drama with music was very popular in Europe, but by l775, the German Singspiel was restricted  to comic operas with spoken dialogue modeled on the style of the French  “Opera Comique,” but, what made the German Singspiel different, needs to be explained.

Because in German, the word “Spiel” means game, the German Singspiel, was created as a game, to train the German singers to master very difficult singing parts. Because of it, the plots of the Singspiels had to be simple, but the melodies that the singers had to sing needed to be challenging. Their arias may have many wide intervals, or require voice leaps, or melismatic passages, (many notes sang with one syllable) or in the worse case, to sustain high notes at the top range of the singers voices. To complicate matters, many times the same aria had to be repeated, up to three times, and the singer was requested to sing it, each time, giving the music a completely different interpretation. We should add, that writing a German Singspiel's arias, required vocal mastery on the part of  the composer.

MOZART knew he could do it, so to compose what it is now his most famous, Singspiel, he selected the comic libretto of  Belmont and Constanze or the Abduction from the Seraglio, from the operetta by CHRISTOPH FRIEDRICH BRETZNER.

One reason for his selection may have been that the action of the Operetta was in Turkey, and Turkish subjects were popular at the time because Catherine the Great was planning to seize Turkey. And perhaps to  please Emperor Joseph II, who thought himself as an “enlightened man,” MOZART requested from JOHANN COTTLIEB STEPHANIE, who wrote the libretto, to change its ending, and solve the problem wih Pasha, with an enlightened  action on his part.

First performed in July 16, 1782, at the Burg Theater in Vienna,  The plot of  MOZART’s most famous Singspiel is simple. On its way to Spain, Pirates seized the boat of Spanish nobleman Belmonte Lostados (MATTHEW GRILLS) the son of the Commandant of Oran, where Konstanze (REBECCA DAVIS) who is betrothed to Belmonte was sailing, along with her maid Blonde (KATRINA GALKA) and Belmonte’s manservant Pedrillo (MICHAEL DAILEY), who is engaged to Blonde.

The Pirates took the three prisoners to Turkey, and sold them as slaves. They were bought by the wealthy Pasha Selim (NATHAN STARK) an Spanish renegade who converted to Islam from Christianity and now has a harem with three wives. Pedrillo managed to send word of their whereabouts to Belmonte, and on the first act, we see him standing at the door of Pasha’s palace, trying to figure out how to rescue them.

When discovered by Osmin (ASHRAF SEWAILAM) a gardener who is in charge of watching over the Pasha’s wives, Belmonte is accused to try to carry off  the women from the Seraglio, and asked to leave and when he refuses, he is pushed away.

The work is visual, It is presented in elaborate sets (STEVEN C. KEMP) one representing the Moorish-Style Pasha’s palace. The other, and probably the most beautiful, the Palace's green garden with a greenery- sculpted life-size statues of a horse and a giraffe standing on the grass. The third one outside the Pashas’ palace at night under a starry sky, and inside his Apartment. Each one is a work of art. And enhancing every scene even more, are the the colorful  middle east costumes (ULISES ALCALA)

The cast of  OSJ The Abduction from the Seraglio

The plot continues in a series of  masterfully-sang difficult arias by each one of the singers. in one of them, Osmin in a dark sonorous Bass-Baritone voice, expresses his belief  that a faithful woman does not exist. In another, Pedrillo has a fight with Blonde who he fears has fallen in love with Osmin. On his part, Belmonte expresses his love for Konstanze, and also his doubts about her fidelity to him, after learning from Pedrillo that  Pasha has fallen in love with her andwants her for a wife, and tries to get her love by showering her with gifts, which include diamonds.

And the comedy makes us laugh. One funny scene is pictured below. It is funny because Pedrillo has given Moslem Osmin his first drink and he loves it.
PEDRIlLO AND  OSMIN.JPG (Pictured from L to R Tenor Michael Dailey, as Pedrillo and Bass-Baritone Ashraf Sewwailam as Turk Osmin tasting wine for the first time)   

Musically, this Singspiel is known to have Mozart’s beatiful melodies. His orchestrations are rich and allows many instruments' solos in the overture. On September 16th, under the baton of  Conductor GEORGE MANAHAN the orchestra sounded wonderful.

The arias, which are sang in German, were vocalized well by the singers. And each one mastered his or her  melismatic passages and reached their high notes with full-sounding tones. Their singing was so beautiful, in some arias that several times during the performance the action was interrupted by applause

And the most critical Aria in the production, and the one that defines it, Konstanze’s  brabure aria Martern aller Arlen in which she tells Pasha that  there are martyrs of all kinds, and that now she feels like one, because she cannot love him  because she is in love with the man she is  betrothed with, was delivered  by DAVIS with dignity and a lot of  feeling (it got an ovation from the audience.).

L-to R Pasha Selim (NATHAN STARK)  and Konstanze (REBECCA DAVIS)

At the end, the Pasha (STARK) being a wise man, understands that what one cannot get with kindness is better to let it go, and observing the dignity of Constanze, uses it, when he delivers his life or death sentence to his four prisoners. The production, got a standing ovation.

MOZART’S  THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO will be shown at the California Theatre, 345 S First Street Downtown S.J. until September 30th. With performances September l6, 20, 23m 28, 30m (m indicates matinee at 3pm; all other performances are at 8PM. For information call 408 437-4450.