Most books on opera generally agree there are three composers whose influence on the art is immeasurable compared to all others: Mozart, Wagner & Verdi. I've never been able to come around to accepting Mozart as part of that triumvirate and I should confess his operas in general don't excite me. Sure, there are wonderful moments and if done well they provide distinct pleasures (especially Cosi), but I've just never understood the constant chatter I've heard from numerous quarters that Mozart was an operatic genius of equal caliber (if not higher) to the other two greats. I've read it, but I don't hear it. This impression goes back to the first time I saw Idomeneo and listened to Idomeneo go on tragically about having to kill his own son Idamante while the music went fa-la-la behind him. Many of you may consider me a heathen (or perhaps an ignorant boob) because of this, but there you have it.
So it shouldn't surprise that when The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail) showed up on this year's San Francisco Opera schedule I knew it was the one production I would be least interested in, despite having a solid cast featuring the wonderful Mary Dunleavy. Last night was the final performance and I caught it from the balcony, which like last Friday, was unbearably warm and full of yokels. My opinion of Mozart remains unchanged, though the production wasn't bad and Mozart fans probably found much to enjoy in it.
As Constanze, Dunleavy hasn't received the raves during this run which usually accompany her performances and I have to admit it was the first time I've seen her when she wasn't captivating. She wasn't bad mind you, but having seen her before, especially in LA Opera's outstanding Der Zwerg, she sets the bar pretty high and last night she came up just a bit short. The rest of the cast did very well, especially Anna Christy as Blonde and Peter Rose as Osmin. Matthew Polenzani, Andrew Bidlack and Charles Shaw Robinson all sounded fine and performed with enthusiasm, though there wasn't much to get enthusiastic about.
The stage (a co-production with Chicago's Lyric Opera) is set up as a theater and while it's attractive, it doesn't really work to any advantage in the 2nd and 3rd acts so the action on it becomes pretty static despite the fact that there's a lot of activity taking place on it. Part of this stems from the music, which always starts in one place and ends up returning to it. Over and over again. Conductor Giuseppe Finzi led the orchestra in a straightforward manner that moved the action along without ever taking it to anyplace thrilling, though there were plenty of pretty spots and some comedic moments.
Abduction contains a lot of "singspiel" dialogue, which was performed in English. I don't have a problem with this choice at all, though I think it just gives further weight to the idea that the entire opera should be sung in English. The whole thing has kind of a sheepish air about it, as though the entire cast is well aware they are performing this middling Mozart work between two other productions that are more engaging and worthwhile- Un Fille du Regiment and Salome. At least that was my impression, born perhaps at my total surprise at how delightful Fille was and the strongly favorable reviews on Salome. Abduction just feels a bit like a soft spot between two more substantial offerings and though this is unfortunate, is does testify to the surprising overall strength of SFO's season thus far.