The Abduction from the Seraglio Review – Closing the 54th Lyric Opera of Chicago Season

Lyric Opera of Chicago concludes its 54th season with the Mozart’s’ opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, which launched Mozart into opera.  The opera’s final performance is March 28, 2009.

Act 1

Entering the Civic Opera House for opening night of Abduction from the Seraglio, my companion and I learned there was a change in the cast.  This kind of change constitutes dreams and nightmares; the nightmare that of Aleksandra Kurzak, who was scheduled to sing the role of Blonde but had laryngitis and the dream of an understudy, a first-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, who was given the opportunity of singing the role of Blonde.  And what a delightful performance ensued, filled with energy and charm and a voice that was  clear and fulfilled the role beautifully.

Act 1

And now back to 25-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his father, Leopold, his intended, Konstanze  Weber, Emperor Joseph II and Abduction from the Seraglio.

Mozart, age 25, had written thirteen operas before he had the opportunity to write in his native language.  He wrote Abduction for Vienna’s National Singspiel, the company created by Emperor Joseph II to create more German-language works for the stage.  This opera served two important functions in Mozart’s life, to proclaim his love for Konstanze Weber, the daughter of his landlady and his independence from his father, Leopold.

Matthew Polenzani and Andrea Silvestrelli

This “singspiel” is three acts in German with English translation.  The libretto by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner was adapted by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger and edited for the New Mozart Edition by Gerhard Croll.

The Abduction from the Seraglio was an instant success when it premiered in Vienna on July 16, 1782.  "My opera was given yesterday with big applause for the third time," Mozart wrote in a letter to his father on July 27th. "In spite of the terrible summer heat, the theatre was packed." Mozart added, "It really feels good to hear this kind of applause."

Matthew Polenzani and Erin Wall

The Lyric website: has many offerings to enhance my experience at the opera and I highly recommend it.  In addition to finding out what is playing and when, ordering tickets, listening to snippets of an opera and/or watching a video clip, I can “learn more”.  For Abduction, Magda Krance has written an article available for download entitled, Turkish Delight: Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, which puts this opera into perspective.

I learned that the pirates, harems and captors that seem fairytale-like were very real in the time period in which this opera was set and in Mozart’s time.  There was, actually a capture of the entire cast of the Malta Opera by Algerian pirates.

Sir Andrew Davis, who conducts this production, says, “The arias are extraordinary –full of pyrotechnics, but also very moving. They’re great virtuoso vehicles and profoundly reflective of personality”. It is also interesting that, “Following its July 16, 1782 premiere, Abduction became a runaway triumph that secured Mozart’s reputation.  Over the next nine years it was staged in 30 European cities, receiving more performances in his lifetime than any other Mozart opera”.  

Osmin (Andrea Silvestrelli) and Blonde(Aleksandra Kurzak)Blonde stands up for herself

This is a comic masterwork in which one can hear some of the most difficult and charming arias ever written. It is the story of a kidnapping.  Count Belmonte (Matthew Polenzani) is trying to rescue his beloved Konstanze (Erin Wall), her maid, Blonde (Aleksandra Kurzak but performed by Angela Mannino at the opening performance) and Pedrillo (Steve Devislim) who were captured and sold to Pasha Selim (David Steiger).  They are imprisoned in the seraglio (a.k.a.harem), where they are guarded by Osmin (Andrea Silvestrelli), a larger than life overseer.  Belmonte’s efforts to rescue them are thwarted by Osmin, who is ominous and daunting.  As the twists and turns of the rescue play out, we see the women stand up to their captors, discussion of the relationship of men and women, honor and justice explored with shifts from humorous and light to deep and emotional.  As an aside, three weeks after this opera premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna, July 16th, 1782, Mozart married his Konstanaze.
Lyric last presented, Abduction in 1984. In this new production some aspects of the David Zinn sets and costumes (inspired by eighteenth century style) and the Chas Rader-Shieber direction have elements that do not have an apparent connection to the story.  In fact, a woman behind me commented on the second acts raised stage covered with Astroturf.  It seemed to be connected to a scene change but the reason for it was unclear and she never understood its purpose.

Steve Davislim and Aleksandra Kurzak

There were memorable moments in Abduction. My favorite was the humorous interchange between Blonde and Osmin - the petite and energetic Blonde giving the giant of a man, Osmin, his musical come-uppance early in the second act.  She was wonderful standing up for her honor without fear to the giant that thought he ruled her feelings. There is a wonderful musical interlude between Konstanze and the orchestra in the second act that was moving and haunting as she longs for reunion with her beloved.  Osmins’ voice, so deep was also surprisingly melodious and his songs echoed in my head long after the performance ended as good music should. The website says, “Andrea Silvestrelli wows audiences with his sonorous voice and larger-than-life stage personality” and I could not have said it better.  Belmonte’s’ arias in the third act were tender and just right.  And the orchestal contribution was outstanding.

Erin Wall, Andrea Silvestrelli, and Aleksandra Kurzak

Whether you have seen this opera before or this is your first opportunity, you will find beauty and emotion in the singing and see the seeds of his future operas, Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and especially Magic Flute.

Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Randy and Melvin Berlin, the Negaunee Foundation, and Brenda and Earl Shapiro

Performances: Saturday,March 7, 2009 7:30 PM, Tuesday March 10, 2009,7:30 PM Friday, March 13, 2009 7:30 PM, Monday, March 16, 2009, 7:30 PM
Thursday,March 19,2009, 2:00 PM,  Sunday, March 22, 2009, 2:00PM     Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 7:30 PM Saturday, March 28, 2009, 7:30 PM         

Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL 60606
312.332.2244 X5600 or

Photos: Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

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