Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 12:00 am
Opera Roanoke on Saturday presented the first of two main-stage productions scheduled for “Comedy Tonight,” its 39th season. The performance of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” was given at Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Performance Hall. The Mozart is paired with Rossini’s “Cinderella,” scheduled for March 20 and 22.
Regional operas choose their repertoire carefully (and economically), looking for selections suitable for young casts and moderately sized orchestras. Comedy is a good bet, and Saturday’s audience was treated to music by one of history’s finest comic composers.
Mozart conducted the Vienna premiere of his “Abduction” in 1782, and it became his first major success. Essentially romantic comedy of the 18th century, this is a singspiel (opera with spoken dialogue) about two young couples held captive in a Turkish palace. The lovers must remain faithful to one another despite threats from their powerful captors. Opera Roanoke’s production gave us the musical numbers in German (with projected supertitles) and the spoken dialogue in English. Much of the text was updated to sound current, and the Turkish/Muslim references of the original were jettisoned in favor of a mafia/high life theme.
Opera Roanoke Artistic Director Scott Williamson assembled a solid cast of singers and actors, and conducted a fine band of musicians from the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. Elegant and stylish music-making more than compensated for a few challenging moments heard in some quick and complicated textures from Act I.
The Opera Roanoke Chorus, under Chorus Master Taylor Baldwin, helped move the action forward, and dealt well with the “Janissaries” chorus number, familiar to many from the movie “Amadeus,” which featured “Abduction” in the story of Mozart’s career. People might also recall from the 1984 movie one of several riveting numbers given to the heroine, Konstanze, which are among the most difficult arias Mozart ever produced.
Soprano Adelaide Muir Trombetta, who teaches voice at Liberty University and was a Metropolitan Opera Auditions finalist, was fearless in her vivid renderings of these arias. Konstanze’s lover, Belmonte, was sung by accomplished bel canto tenor Brian Downen, who delivered a first-rate performance and joined Trombetta with equal relish in the stage antics.
The counter pair of lovers, Belmonte’s servant Pedrillo and Konstanze’s maid Blonde, was sung by lyric tenor Kelly Burns and coloratura Anna Sterrett, respectively. Both singers contributed more than just fine singing, adding delight and wit to the comedy. Virginia Tech’s David Johnson played the speaking role of Selim, the Posha/Boss of the palace, with elegance and charm. And Selim’s palace overseer, Osmin, was sung by bass Zachary James, who embraced his character’s villainy (and very low notes) with much flair and physicality.
The production team — which, in addition to Williamson, included Sueann Leung (costume director) and Brynn Scozzari (assistant director) — emphasized variety over unity, an approach common in opera production today, where pastiche occasionally trumps coherent vision. The audience expressed its approval with much laughter and a standing ovation. We can all be happy to have had a chance to see and hear this masterpiece live and on stage this season.
Next stop: Rossini in the spring.