It’s the first opera from the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Newly-arrived in Vienna in 1782, Mozart is determined to make his mark in the musical capital of Europe. He’s 26, with years of prolific composition behind him — but the best is yet to come.
Mozart is excited about his prospects, and in love with life — breathing in the charms of the city, with plenty of friends, and time for dancing — yes, dancing! — when he’s not dashing off another symphony or sonata. The young composer is broke, as usual, but that’s not stopping him. He’s newly-married to the sister of a girl who turned him down, but that’s not stopping him, either. A more established composer is jealous, and connives to sidetrack his career. But the Austrian emperor, Joseph II, is a Mozart fan. Joseph Haydn, too. Now he has a commission to write his first opera, “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”
And now Mozart’s music will begin to change, said Joe Mechavich, the musical director of Kentucky Opera’s production of “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” presented Friday and Sunday at the Brown Theatre.
“Mozart is still trying to figure things out,” said Mechavich. “This opera, he had just arrived to Vienna from Salzburg, so this is his big coming out party, with everyone hearing his music.”
From his earliest days, Mozart was always able to create wonderful melodies, and always able to set everything perfectly in place. Maybe too perfectly in place.
“You hear him struggling with his confined early style, where he hasn’t yet broken the bonds of his teachers and fellow composers,” said Mechavich. “It’s not yet the mature, adult sound he will achieve later in “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” But you can hear where he’s been, and where he’s going.”
Of course, most opera fans are just fans, and don’t hear all the nuances the experts hear. But we all enjoy an inside look at the special milestones along an artist’s rise to stardom. It is this period, when Mozart was composing “The Abduction,” that provides the plot and setting for the film “Amadeus.”
“He’s still not free,” cautioned the director. “He’s still — and I know this is absolutely sacrilegious to say — but he’s still trying to find his voice.”
“The Abduction from the Seraglio” is a comedy, set in a faraway land, with a faraway kind of plot that only an opera lover could love. But it’s fun. Two young guys off to rescue their girlfriends from the grasp of a powerful Pasha.
“Everybody who’s seen the movie ‘Amadeus’ has heard music from ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio,’” said Mechavich. “This is the opera that incites Emperor Joseph to say, ‘Too many notes!’”
That gets a laugh from soprano Devon Guthrie, who sings the lead role of Constanze.
“Whichever soprano Mozart was writing this for, she must have been a heckuva’ gal,” said Guthrie. “So many notes. Lots of notes!”
There certainly are plenty of notes, and they range from the lowest soprano notes to the very highest — coming along in a torrent, at times.
Guthrie and other members of the cast of “The Abduction” appeared last week before a live audience at WUOL 90.5’s “Lunch and Listen,” hosted by Daniel Gilliam. The singers talked about their backgrounds and about their roles in this opera — and sang some songs. “The Abduction” is not often performed, so most of the cast is singing the opera for the first time.
Tenor Joshua Dennis takes the role of Belmonte, a nobleman who is engaged to Constanze, with Ryan Connelly singing Belmonte’s pal Pedrillo, who is smitten with Constanze’s maid Blonde, sung by Ashly Neumann. The bad guys, who turn out to be not so awful after all, are Selim Pasha, played by Whit Whitaker, and the Pasha’s right hand man Osmin, sung by Gustav Andreassen.
Anyhow, the girls have been snatched, and their beaus venture off to Turkey to snatch ‘em back. In an early duet, Belmonte and Osmin get into a war of wills — and a Mozart torrent of notes — in a face off at the gates to the Pasha’s palace: “Where do you think you’re going,” sings Osmin, in a booming bass voice. “I’m going in!” answers Belmonte. “No, you’re not.” “Yes, I am.” And on and on in a fast-pitched duet.
Connelly said that as Belmonte’s sidekick he works on establishing a comedic counterpoint to the hero. Neumann said Blonde (she’s a blonde, herself, in a casting triumph) doesn’t think Osmin’s advances are quite that cute.
“She’s quite the spitfire,” said Neumann, of Blonde. “She doesn’t take any business from Osmin. But she’s also sort of eternally optimistic. She believes they’ll be rescued, and that’s welcomed by Constanze.”
Of course, it all work outs in the end, with the characters working up some fine ensembles getting there, including a famous quartet sung by the love interests at the end of the second act. The words wonderfully entangled in song.
“The music is quintessentially Mozart, in what you hear and the way the voices work together,” Mechavich explains. “Mozart was always about the words inspiring the melody. He wrote about that to his father when he was composing this piece, and you see that in the quartet.”
The Abduction is composed in “singspiel,” in which the songs are spaced with spoken dialog. In this Kentucky Opera production, the songs are sung in German, with the dialog in English. It’s a listener friendly motif that caters to the enjoyment of the audience. (Though a challenge for the stars, shifting between spoken words and those sung in the songs.
“This is still a ‘numbered’ opera, where everyone knows when to clap,” said Mechavich. “He has a recipe to follow. So you know at the end of the second act you need a nice ensemble to bring it to a close.
“But the quartet is fabulously intimate. It’s grand. The orchestral colors are phenomenal.”
And speaking of colors, Mechavich promises that audiences will love the set and the costumes, which have been created in a partnership with the Des Moines Opera, which also produced the opera. “It’s just going to pop,” said Mechavich. “It’s full of color.”
One of the sets features a high wall of the Seraglio, with a window above the stage — from which, one imagines, a character can look down on the action and toss is an occasional quip.
Mechavich said some of the songs are done in the “Landler” style, and that helps deliver the comedy of the opera.
“That’s spelled L-a-n-d-e-r, with an umlaut over the ‘a’ — a German folk song in 6/8,” he said. “If you think of people singing with a beer stein, that’s Landler.
“This is a comic opera, and our stage director, David Gately, is known in the business for doing exquisite comedy. There are a lot of gags and moments that are hilarious. So we’ll be milking those, bringing them to life.”
One gets a picture of “I Love Lucy,” with the comedic quartet of Desi and Lucy, and Fred and Ethel — roaming off to an adventure in the exotic East.
But mostly, it’s Mozart and the music.