If I may “cut to the chase,” this Saturday’s vibrant production of Mozart’s comedy, “The Abduction from Seraglio” was not only a delight but a wonderfully refreshing production. So many classical and early operas are updated, often with questionable results, which was not at all the case in this, the final production of the Pittsburgh Opera’s 2011-2012 season. “Cut to the chase” is, perhaps, quite an apt phrase to employ as the strongest impression I drew from director James Robinson and set designer Allen Moyer’s colorful production was the feeling that I was watching a film. Rather than being cloistered away within the seraglio (a special palace reserved for the harem in Turkish noble houses), we find ourselves enclosed within an art-deco train car on board the Orient Express in the 1920’s, en route from Istanbul to Paris. The entire set (beautifully illuminated by Paul Palazzo’s excellent lighting) was framed by black curtains, creating a sort of “wide-screen” feel, and moved smoothly from left to right and back again, depicting several highly detailed compartments aboard the train. In this age when concertgoers are able to attend opera productions that are broadcast from houses like the Met into movie theaters, it seems a fitting turn to attend an opera that feels rather like going to the movies.
At nearly every climax, I felt as though the production were channeling elements of “Indiana Jones,” or some unread adventure of Tin Tin, Georges Remi’s adventurous boy reporter. In the most comedic moments, and I laughed often, I recalled scenes from Neil Simon’s “Murder by Death,” or some kooky technicolor parody of that era. And it was in so many of the fine details that I found such great satisfaction, such as the cast portraying the glamor in smoking cigarettes, or the fact that as Pedrillo craftily mixes Osmin a martini laced with sleeping potion, he is holding a genuine bottle of Bombay Gin and Martini et Rossi Vermouth, rather than a couple of those silly anonymous “stage” bottles.
Oh yes, and the cast! This cast was surely the most balanced and effective ensemble as a whole thus far in the Pittsburgh Opera’s season, boasting incredible versatility and fine acting ability. Lisette Oropesa sang the challenging role of Konstanze wonderfully, channeling the glitz of Fay Wray with dignified composure. David Portillo and Joseph Gaines made for a delightful pair as the heroic Belmonte and his servant, Pedrillo. Second year Resident Artist Adam Fry commanded the stage as the aristocratic Pasha Selim, showcasing a voice and acting ability that is sure to rocket him from the Resident Artist program into well deserved continuing success. Ashley Emerson complimented this line-up well as Blonde, Pedrillo’s love and unwilling consort to the villainous Osmin, portrayed by the show-stealing antics and booming basso of Paolo Pecchioli.
In all, this season’s coda is a production that is not to be missed and serves equally as a fun and engaging introduction to the opera (thanks largely to being sung in English) and a satisfying class act to even the strongest opera fan.
“The Abduction from Seraglio” continues on May 4th and 6th, 2012. For more information: www.pittsburghopera.org
Photos: David Bachman