Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
By Neil Walker
CD Stock Number: Telarc CD-8054
Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have given Mozart lovers a version of Die Entführung aus dem Serail to cherish. This performance only enhances Mackerras's reputation as a superb Mozartean. He begins with a vigorous interpretation of the overture and continues to draw the best out of the orchestra, chorus and singers. Die Entführung's arias, duets and quartet are sheer pleasure.
At the heart of the opera's style is eighteenth century Europe's fascination with the exotic and, in particular, with Turkey and the Turks. In the previous century, Turkey had been at war with several European countries, including Hungary. Vienna itself had been under siege by the Turks a century previous. On the other hand, the Turks had introduced Europe to the pleasures of coffee. In 1669, the Turkish ambassador, Suleiman Agha, introduced Louis XIV to coffee and the coffee craze spread from his court throughout Europe. Austria became famous for its coffee houses, with Bach dedicating a humourous cantata to a young woman's coffee addiction.
Mozart was nothing if not excited by the fashions of the day. An interest in Turkey finds its way into several of his pieces, such as the Rondo alla Turca in his piano sonata in A minor, K. 331. In this opera, Mozart creates a crowning achievement for the allure of Turkish themes for the stage.
This opera's libretto presents us with the stereotypical ideas of the time about relationships, primarily male-female, but also among different classes and cultures. The notes accompanying the recording remind us that Europeans believed that Moslems were forbidden to drink alcohol, that their rulers kept numerous wives in seraglios, and that they were "brutal, uncultured and bloodthirsty." While enjoying coffee, Europeans also thought of Moslem music as featuring "high pitched melody instruments and a lot of clanging percussion, notably cymbals, triangle, and bass drum." Mozart and Bretzner/Stephanie use all of these, usually for comic effect.
A singspiel (a musical work for the stage having both sung and spoken parts), Die Entführung receives admirable treatment from Mackerras, the SCO and Chorus and the cast. While the cast members are not uniformly superb in their characterization, they are very good. Some may find that Peter Rose does not sound sufficiently menacing as Osmin. However, he handles the role in a more serious and straightforward manner than most other singers do; there is much less buffoonish exaggeration in his characterization which, in the end, makes him more genuinely threatening.
Apart from that, the cast gives an excellent performance. As a comparison, I used John Eliot Gardiner's 1987 recording [Archiv, 435 857-2], an outstanding period-instrument treatment of Die Entführung. True to period instrument practice, Gardiner tunes slightly lower than the A 440 of Mackerras' recording, very obvious when you switch CDs to compare particular tracks. The newer version stands up well to the Gardner, which to many is, if not the best ever, certainly the best period instrument version. One obvious comparison to make is Konstanze's aria, "Martern all Arten.". While Olgo Organosova is superb, her rich, creamy voice full of passion, Yelda Kodalli's passionate version is even more attention grabbing while demonstrating the beauties of her lighter but very powerful voice. Mackerras and the SCO perform at the same high level.
The SCO performs admirably. Mackerras and the SCO have lots of fire where needed, such as in the overture and in their introductions of such parts as an aria, a duet or a quartet. They also play with feeling and warmth for the romantic and deeply felt portions of the libretto. Yelda Kodalli is never less than very good throughout. The Blonde, Désirée Rancatore, is possibly even better suited to her role than is Kodalli. She performs with style and natural grace. Both tenors provide very fine performances, although they are not quite as impressive as the women. They occasionally sound a little strained.
I recommend this recording strongly. Mozart done well is unalloyed pleasure. Here, Telarc gives us their usual high standard of recording. Add their expertise to an outstanding conductor with a flair for Mozart, a superb orchestra and chorus and a very fine cast and you experience a truly enjoyable afternoon or evening of listening.