Sunday, February 13, 2011

Updating the opera: Abduction from the Seraglio

On Thursday night Andrew and I attended the Edmonton Opera's production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. I'd never heard of this opera until a groupon message arrived in my inbox offering me a great deal on two tickets for the show. I sent the message onto Andrew to see if he was interested and since the price was good we thought we'd go for it. I briefly checked out Edmonton Opera's Website to get a gist of what the opera was about (spies and romance with a 1960's, James Bond-equse twist, how could it go wrong?) and ordered the tickets. Since attending the opera I've learn that this was one of Mozart's first operas commissioned by Austrian emperor Joseph II as a part of his Nationalsingspiel project--an effort to produce German lyric operas.

To be honest, the production wasn't exactly what I'd expected. It felt more like a Gilbert and Sullivan production (Edmonton Opera is performing The Mikado next year--I'm very excited) with it's corny jokes and, in general, very silly atmosphere than a Mozart opera. If I had to guess, this staging was an effort by Edmonton Opera to engage a younger audience and encourage a new generation of patrons. I had been expecting and looking forward to the 1960's setting, but only half of the opera was sung (therefore does it still count as an opera?). Actually, according the ever-wise Wikipedia, this is how the opera was originally performed. The songs were sung in German and the spoken sections in between were in English. And the spoken sections had been clearly re-written to incorporate modern day references (including those to Facebook, YouTube, Mike Holmes and I believe even a reference to Weird Al's movie UHF).

I think it was the hyper-updated references that put a bit of an odd taste in my mouth (like how my meal last Friday at the Blue Chair had tiny bits of cucumber, thus decreasing my enjoyment ever-so-slightly). It felt like the jokes had gone a little sour with too much effort, and if they had stayed away from the uber pop culture jokes it might have been more effective. Now, I should point out that people did laughed. As the joke about Facebook was set up, the audience giggled and continued to do so when the punchline was thrown. It just didn't suit me. I think I would preferred dialogue that had been translated more closely to the original German text and only updated where the references to eighteenth century Vienna wouldn't make sense in twenty-first century Edmonton.

I did like some of the original things they did. For example, the Edmonton Opera made an opening credit film. While the opera's overture played the film was projected onto a screen. It showed Belmonte (the Bond-like character) striding onto the screen and striking the traditional Bond-gunshot pose, while the background colour turned red with blood. They used the screen again later on for the chase seen, which I also liked. As with the other Edmonton Opera productions I've seen, the set and costuming were all excellent, and I really did enjoy the sung parts. I find I actually rather like opera (at least when I'm seeing it in a theatre as opposed to listening to Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC). Unfortunately, Andrew doesn't much care for it. We went to see Carmen a couple of years ago and he found the storyline too base, or too simple...too unbelievable, perhaps? And he doesn't much care for the operatic singing style either. At least he likes Gilbert and Sullivan, and so is happy to see The Mikado with me next year.

All-in-all? Abduction from the Seraglio was okay--but not as great as I'd been hoping it would be. We didn't pay full price for tickets, however; and it was an opportunity to support Edmonton Opera. I think we'll probably stick with patronizing the orchestra for now.



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