Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lenneke Ruiten (Konstanze), Sabine Devieilhe (Blonde), Mauro Peter (Belmonte), Maximilian Schmitt (Pedrillo), Tobias Kehrer (Osmin), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta has a long history with Mozart’s Turkish Singspiel and Italy. In his 1967 video from Salzburg, he had two leading Rossinians in his cast, Luigi Alva (who is Peruvian, all right) and Fernando Corena (who was… Swiss). In 2002, RAI recorded another performance conducted by the Indian maestro in Florence with two Italian sopranos: Eva Mei and Patrizia Ciofi. Finally, as a tribute to Giorgio Strehler, the Teatro alla Scala re-staged the Salzburg 1967 production once again under Mehta. Even if the staging show a bit its age, it still fascinating to follow Strehler’s detailed blocking, which explores stock gestures in a choreographic blocking under carefully designed lighting that shows singers as if silhouettes, especially during their arias, presented almost in concert style with singers bowing for the audience during the performance. Mehta is an ideally transparent Mozartian who takes profit of the house orchestra’s slim, flexible strings for an ideal balance between sections and also with his cast. At this point, he is not more capable of the animation seen in his previous performances and the results are sprightly and polite rather than exciting. I would write “exciting and theatrical”, but, truth be said, the staging is so ceremonious that truly dramatic music making would clash with the director’s concept. Lenneke Ruiten’s vinegary soprano does not make her an immediately appealing Konstanze, but her high notes open roundly and richly and without any hint of difficulty. She does not cheat with the coloratura and in the end twists the audience around her little finger by her healthy-, firm-toned and uncomplicated singing in this challenging part. In that sense, her Belmonte is quite contrasted to his leading lady. Mauro Peter is what one expects as a Mozart tenor in his studied, carefully observed phrasing. Notwithstanding a pleasant and elegant tonal quality, the lack of naturalness is increased by a grainy, unfocused his high register. He is spared of singing Wenn der Freude and offers a simplified version of Ich baue ganz. His Pedrillo, Maximilian Schmitt (René Jacobs’s Belmonte), has a brighter, lighter and more projecting tenor. In spite of some awkward turns of phrase, he sings a spontaneous Frisch zum Kampfe. Sabine Devieilhe is a superlative Blondchen, satisfying in every aspect of her role. Tobias Kehrer’s bass is two sizes lighter than the role of Osmin, especially in the upper reaches. His low notes are not big, but firm and true to pitch. The direction requires lots of evil laughs and a great deal of slapstick, but he is able to accomplish what is required from him without too much exaggeration.

Sally Matthews (Konstanze), Mari Eriksmoen (Blonde), Edgaras Montvidas (Belmonte), Brenden Gunnell (Pedrillo), Tobias Kehrer (Osmin), The Gllundebourne Chorus, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Robin Ticciati

Robin Ticciati conducts an energetic, spirited performance in the DVD recorded in Glyndebourne. His beat is flexible, attentive to Mozart’s theatrical accents and exuberantly played in a slightly abrasive, raw sound from his period-instrument orchestra that serves well this score. His edition is more complete than in any other video – there is the march for the entrance of Bassa Selim and Konstanze, the extra bars in Martern aller Arten and Durch Zärtlichkeit and Belmonte sings the long Wenn der Freude. Ticciati’s attentive conducting deserved, however, a leading lady and a first tenor who could match his Mozartian finesse and variety. Sally Matthews’s soprano is rather complex in texture – it is a dark, nervous sound, covered vowels included, that surprisingly climb to well-focused high notes and is capable of some flexibility at the cost of a certain self-indulgence with breath pauses. She deserves praise for her commitment and diligence but it is a performance about the mechanics. In her voice, the part sounds extremely difficult and it is difficult to see much beyond that. In a case in which even the Pasha is not a native German speaker, her German sounds reasonably fluent and she is an effective actress too. Edgaras Montvidas is the opposite of everything one expects in a Mozart tenor – his sound is throaty and grainy and acquires a hint of nasality around the passaggio. He is not prone to legato and his phrasing tends to the blowsy and effortful, but he fares better than many a smoother and ear-friendlier singer in his fioriture. His German leaves a lot to be desired too. In that sense, he is outshone by his Pedrillo. American tenor Brenden Gunnell has a pleasant firm voice and one can see by the firmness and slancio of his high notes that his career would veer into the Heldentenor repertoire. He is a terrific actor with idiomatic pronunciation of the German language. He is partnered by Mari Eriksmoen, René Jacobs’s Blonde (SEE BELOW), whose bright, spontaneous soprano is a bit brittle in its high notes, but never grates on the ear. She eschews cuteness almost to a fault, but offers a rounder and more satisfying performance here than she did in studio. Her acting and handling of the dialogues deserves high praise too. Finally, Tobias Kehrer is far more comfortable in lower pitch,  with period instruments and in a smaller hall than he would be at La Scala. Here, the voice sounds dark enough and he handles the intricacies of Osmin’s big aria more commendably. He completes a cast almost uniformly adept in terms of scenic talent. Director Davic McVicar takes profit of that in a detailed Personenregie that takes pride of place in the context of beige sets and beautiful period costumes. Here all the conflicts are brought to the fore – Konstanze is very much seduced by the pasha and is more scared by the sexual attraction she feels for him (in comparison to the very polite and dignified relationship she has with Belmonte, here shown as an unfriendly, self-centered and snob gentleman. The tension between Pedrillo and Osmin in their competition for Blonde’s attention is very palpable too, but shown in perfect comedy timing. There is too much dialogue, though, and one feels that, except when Blonde, Pedrillo and Osmin are speaking, given their ability to spin their dialogues in a crispy and meaningful way.

Jane Archibald (Konstanze), Rachele Gilmore (Blonde), Norman Reinhardt (Belmonte), David Portillo (Pedrillo), Mischa Schelomianski (Osmin), Ensemble Aedes, Le Cercle de L’Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer

Recorded live at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées, where Jérémie Rhorer has offered the Parisian audiences Mozart operas with his Cercle de l’Harmonie, this Enführung aus dem Serail followed staged performances in Aix-en-Provence, with a different orchestra and tenor some months before, which I was able to see. Although some of his tempi may be on the very fast side (making it sometimes difficult for its cast to spit out German consonants in high velocity), his sense of clarity, proportion and structural understanding are exemplary. His orchestra is not the last word in smoothness and polish, but it certainly relishes the challenge of clear articulation in brisk pace and sheer animation and sense of drama. The text is here abridged, but dialogues are delivered with gusto, in spite of variable German pronunciation. My impression of the singing as recorded compares favourably with my experience live at the Archevêché. If Jane Archibald’s soprano is somewhat light for the role of Konstanze and her high register is metallic and sometimes impure, she handles the coloratura impressively and has no problem with (the very) high tessitura. She has sense of style and phrases with taste, but her tonal palette and dynamic possibilities are rather restrict, what makes her short in expression in moments like Traurigkeit. Rachele Gilmore is a strong, energetic Blonde who could do with a bit more poise and a lovelier tonal quality. As much as his Konstanze, Norman Reinhardt has to sing his part uncut. His tenor is more substantial than most Belmontes’ these days and he has very long breath and can shift to a falsetto that stands for mezza voce when a pianissimo is required. However, the truth is that his Pedrillo (David Portillo) has a far more appealing voice and sings with more lyricism, poise and fuller high notes. One cannot help thinking how this would go if they traded roles. Mischa Schelomianski’s bass is round, velvety and counts with the necessary (very) low notes for Osmin. He also sings with Mozartian elegance, even when a little boorishness is required. The technical flamboyance for O wie will ich triumphieren is unfortunately not really there.

Robin Johannsen (Konstanze), Mari Eriksmoen (Blonde), Maximilian Schmitt (Belmonte), Julian Prégardien (Pedrillo), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Osmin), RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, René Jacobs

As every other entry in René Jacobs’s Mozart opera series, one listens to this recording for better or for worse: if you’re not ready for whatever may come, you’d better choose any other item in this discography. The whole enterprise is based on the very twisted concept that Mozart’s music alone won’t be reason enough for you to listen to three hours of classical music and that the “re-creation of the theatrical experience” would help you to get to the bitter end. This is “achieved” by making the original dialogues even longer by tautological explanations and the insertion of spoken lines in the middle of musical numbers. The fact that the longer dialogues are accompanied by fortepiano improvisation on themes by Mozart is a dubious advantage. In my very humble opinion, it only makes things less spontaneous. Fortunately, all singers involved – including the non-German speakers – are quite accomplished with their lines. The fortepiano is sadly omnipresent – it chimes along in arpeggios and other cute little touches throughout every number. Most of the time, it is inoffensive, but in the end it is another extra feature (among spoken “voice overs”, sound effects, fits of overornamentation…) that just sound like noise to Mozart’s music. Osmin’s Solche hergelaufne Laffen has all sort of disfiguring features, including some bizarre harmonic effects provided by the fortepiano that sound frankly awkward. And there is also some playing with tempo – some Harnoncourt-ish ritt. and acc. but also numbers that seem uncomfortably slow or uncomfortably fast (Konstanze’s Traurigkeit, for instance- the conductor explains his reasons, but the result is still unconvincing). This all is quite sad, for the performance behind all the gimmickry is basically good: it is very clear and purposeful, the Akademie für Alte Musik plays adeptly and is dramatically concerned; the Turkish instruments are aptly tangy; and there is an underlying sense of tension and danger that makes all the difference in the world in this opera. All that said, it is never really terribly expressive – the gesture far larger than the feeling behind it. The generally capable but mostly overparted cast is encouraged to ornament in a way that generally elicits the impression that it was really better as Mozart wrote it. The bell-toned Robin Johannsen is technically irreproachable but her soprano comes in only one colour, which has more prettiness than pathos. As with all Konstanzes of her feather, the dramatic coloratura brings about a metallic, yelping quality that does not always suggest the grandeur of a prima donna role. One does not need a big voice to achieve that – Arleen Augér in Karl Böhm’s recording (SEE BELOW) is a paragon of elegance and sensitivity in that role and does sing a Martern aller Arten that takes your breath away. Mari Eriksmoen seems to have a larger if piercing soprano that suits the idea of a spunky, charmless Blondchen. Maximilian Schmitt is a light, stylish Belmonte. His tenor is a bit grainy and is sometimes nasal (especially in fioriture), but his high notes are easy and true. He sings the role without cuts. Julien Prégardien is a vivacious Pedrillo who – as almost everybody – is taken to his limits in his big aria, but acquits himself quite decently nonetheless. As Osmin, Dimitry Ivashchenko offers a terrific performance – the voice is big, round, dark and very flexible. And he is also very funny. I only wished he were allowed to sing Ha, wie will ich triumphieren in more “normal” circumstances, where he would be able to show his ability to sing florid lines a tempo.

Diana Damrau (Konstanze), Anna Prohaska (Blonde), Rolando Villazón (Belmonte), Paul Schweinester (Pedrillo), Franz-Josef Selig (Osmin), Vocalensemble Rastatt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Seguin

Yannick Nézet-Seguin’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail was recorded live during performances in Baden-Baden. It is a flamboyant performance, with virtuosistic playing from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, absolute transparency, Â clearly articulated and musically meaningful phrasing, bold accents, theatrical flair and imagination. It has also plenty of contrast and is not relentlessly fast as one would expect these days. Although the contribution from the fortepiano continuo is certainly colourful and stylist, it has the effect of too much whipped cream on the complex flavours of a dark chocolate cake. I would not miss if it were not there. As in other items in this Mozart opera series, the big-name casting is not exactly an advantage here. I have seen Diana Damrau live ten years before this recording was made. At that time, her Konstanze was capably sung but hardly poised and ingratiating. Her basic sound is now frankly piercingly metallic and often overvibrant, trills are just looser version of vibrato and, if the voice is still flexible, the effort is sometimes evident. All that said, by the end of the first CD, one feels captivated by her charisma, dramatic awareness and sensitivity. The extra weight in her voice has advantages for Martern aller Arten and she still has beautiful mezza voce. The dialogues are, of course, expertly handled. Anna Prohaska too is a Blonde I’ve seen live, and she is here as energetic and charming as she was on stage. I particularly like the way she avoids the usual cuteness in this role. Critics have not been soft on Rolando Villazón’s performances in Baden-Baden: apparently it was a bumpy ride, vocal glitches galore. As edited, his singing is capable, but open-toned in a Spieltenor-ish way and some high notes are extremely tight. Although some of the usual cuts have been unopened, he does not sing the more florid version of Wenn der Freude. His German is accented but fluent, especially in dialogue. Paul Schweinester is a light-toned Pedrillo who copes very well with the heroic demands of Frisch zum Kampfe. Franz-Josef Selig is a spirited, dark-toned and funny Osmin who only lacks plausible coloratura to be exemplary in this role. I am not really convinced by Thomas Quasthoff’s Pasha Selim. His spoken voice is beautiful and his diction is faultless, but the overall impression is of politeness.

Diana Damrau (Konstanze), Olga Peretyatko (Blonde), Christoph Strehl (Belmonte), Norbert Ernst (Pedrillo), Franz-Josef Selig (Osmin), Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Ivor Bolton

Featuring a stellar cast and a distinguished stage director, the performance from Barcelona released on DVD had very good prospects, and I can imagine that those in the theatre must have found it worth the detour. In the context of this disco- and videography, however, it unfortunately pales against the formidable competition: it ultimately can only be recommended as a souvenir for those who happened to see it live in Barcelona. To start with, Ivor Bolton’s conducting is rather correct in style and respect for the score, but it is helplessly lackadaisical – and the unexceptional orchestral playing and choral singing only exposes this fact quite bluntly. I do not see why one would do this, but if someone is indeed curious to hear Mr. Bolton’s take on this singspiel, the performance from Salzburg is more consistent in this regard. Although I sincerely dislike Stefan Herheim’s staging (SEE BELOW), it is – candidly speaking – far less boring than Christof Loy’s vacuous production: updating the plot to the 1940’s does not bring any added insight (most of what one sees is too abstract to make an impression) and dialogues spoken with the gravitas of a staging of Sophocles’ Antigone and pauses as long as the length of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung make one feel each second pass. The cast is all right competent in the acting department, but they all seem extremely unnatural and exaggerated under these circumstances. Diana Damrau has an inclination for the analytic. Here, given all the time of the world, she digests every syllable of the text and tries to colour every consonant in the libretto. One has to concede that there is a superior musical and dramatic intelligence behind that, but the fastidiousness with different angles makes the portrait more Picasso than Goya. After a while, one just wishes for the unhindered effect of Mozart’s invention. She is here in far superior voice that she would be for Nézet-Seguin, tackling the challenging coloratura with aplomb and producing beautiful pianissimo throughout. All said, her Martern aller Arten (with the usual cuts opened) is probably more defiant than any other recorded performance. Olga Peretyatko is arguably the best Blondchen since… Patrizia Ciofi for Mehta? Her tone is unusually round and rich up to her in alts and she sings with animation and flair. Christoph Strehl sings the part of Belmonte uncut and is unfazed by most of what he has to sing, his fioriture more often than not confident, but the tone is not exactly pleasing and he is not truly poised and elegant. His Pedrillo, Nortbert Ernst sang David in Wagner’s Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Bayreuth and, for a change, has no problem with the heroic high notes. He is not truly at ease with Mozartian style, though: both tenors’ combined efforts in the quartet comes across are rather rough. Franz-Josef Selig can be a terrific Osmin, but here his high register sounds a bit raspy and muscular and, in the end of his Ha, wie will ich triumphieren, the impression is more of relief than of abandon.

Laura Aikin (Konstanze), Valentina Farcas (Blonde), Charles Castronovo (Belmonte), Dietmar Kerschbaum (Pedrillo), Franz Hawlata (Osmin), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Ivor Bolton

Recorded during the Mozart 250th Anniversary Salzburg Festival, this 2006 production of Entführung aus dem Serail is probably the worst opera DVD you will ever buy. The point in Stefan Herheim’s production seems to be laughing at those who actually like this delicious Singspiel as if the very fact that liking it was worth of mockery. Although silence is the appropriate review for this derisive production, DVD-buyers should be warned about what they would be spending their money on. In this staging, there is no abduction, no seraglio, no Turkey and no character named Pasha Selim. An innocent member of the audience would spend the whole night trying to guess why this nonsensical play about the battle of sexes in which every character is dressed as brides and grooms in a white hall filled with gift-wrapped boxes has this “soundtrack” with a Turkish flavour. The original dialogues have been replaced by a pointless exchange of platitudes about the nature of relationships and the libretto is only quoted to be made fun of by characters. If one turns the TV set off and leaves the speakers on, the musical performance in itself is far less disappointing. The edition here adopted opens all the cuts in Konstanze’s, Blonde’s and Belmonte’s (except for Wenn der Freude) arias and includes the 5a March. Ivor Bolton’s conducting is clear and sprightly, but do not look for any spirit behind the notes – the whole proceedings are as gemütlich as it gets. The Mozarteum Orchestra does a clean job, but the recording offers a somewhat recessed orchestral sound. The lovely Laura Aikin is overparted as Konstanze but refuses to surrender to that and plunges into her difficult arias with technical aplomb and refined musicianship. However, there is an omnipresent tension and the occasional overbrightness in top notes. When it comes to Valentina Farcas’s metallic-toned Blondchen, the loveliness is restricted to her good looks and personal charm. Charles Castronovo’s basic tone is appealing enough and he never cheats with Belmonte’s divisions. His overdark top register robs the finish of his Mozartian phrasing, though. Dietmar Kerschbaum’s Spieltenor turns around comic effects. Surprisingly, he is not afraid of the heroics of Frisch zum Kampfe. Franz Hawlata sounds ill at ease in the part of Osmin. His bass sounds dry-toned and constricted , but his acting skills are commendable (as much as his Blondchen’s).

Diana Damrau (Konstanze), Kerstin Avermo (Blonde), Daniel Kirch (Belmonte), Peter Marsh (Pedrillo), Jaco Huijpen (Osmin), Chor der Oper Frankfurt, Frankfurter Museumorchester, Julia Jones

Christof Loy’s staging filmed in Barcelona in 2010 was originally a coproduction between Brussel’s La Monnaie and the Oper Frankfurt, where it has been caught live in video by the Hessicher Rundfunk. This is Diana Damrau’s first recorded Konstanze. The tone is fresher and cleaner, but some difficult passages would simply be dispatched with more abandon six years later in Barcelona, not to mention that her approach is more spontaneous here. That said, this is probably her best souvenir in this role. Kerstin Avermo has never sung better in recordings as here. The voice is still a bit brittle in its highest reaches, but she sings with energy and charm. In his artificially darkened tone and with his emphatic manners, Daniel Kirch can’t help being a rough, awkward Belmonte, cavalier with pitch, heavily aspirated in fioriture and fully unacquainted with Mozartian style. The fact that he sings the part without cuts is a dubious advantage. His Pedrillo, Peter Marsh, causes a far more positive impression. His singing is spontaneous and confident even in his difficult aria. Jaco Huijpen’s bass is not dark nor spacious enough in the role of Osmin. He is dramatically committed and tries to sing everything Mozart wrote, but Ha! Wie will ich triumphieren is simply beyond his possibilities. There is no comparison between Ivor Bolton’s lackadaisical conducting in Spain and Julia Jones’s animated, stylish conducting. She has also superior help from the Frankfurter Museumsorchester. The stage performance too has more efficient timing, and this cast is simply more gifted in the acting departments.

Malin Hartelius (Konstanze), Magali Leger (Blonde), Matthias Klink (Belmonte), Loïc Felix (Pedrillo), Wojtek Smilek (Osmin), Europa-ChorAkademie, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

The good news about Marc Minkowski’s second video of Die Entführung aus dem Serail is that now the recorded sound is very good, faithfully preserving the superb playing of the excellent Musiciens du Louvre. As in Salzburg, Minkowski understands this score as few other conductors and knows how to plays all the effects intended by Mozart in an extraordinary but undemonstrative manner. The bad news is that we still have a dancing Passa Selim who reads his lines in Arabic, a weird production and an unexceptional cast. Promoted to the role of Konstanze, Malin Hartelius displays nimble technique, smooth coloratura and unusual attention to Mozart’s instructions. However, the role is a couple of sizes larger than her voice. As a result, her soprano sounds shallow and tonal variety is somewhat beyond her possibilities. As Blondchen, Magali Léger displays a sexy bright-toned soprano leggiero that has its edgy moments when things get too high and fast. Matthias Klink’s tenor has lost a great deal of naturalness since Lothar Zagrosek’s recording (SEE BELOW). One might think that there are two Pedrillos in this recording. Considering his clumsiness with fioriture, the absence of Ich baue ganz ends on being an advantage. I might be mistaken, but I could not recognise the version of Wenn der Freude featured here – it neither corresponds to the one found in old recordings nor to the one in the Gerhard Croll’s Neue Ausgabe. Loïc Félix is a decent Pedrillo, but I am afraid Wojket Smilek is desperately overparted as Osmin. The production shown in the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence is not particularly beautiful to the eyes and the director has a fancy for filling the stage with cute little stage gestures carried out by a group of stooges as if he did not believe that one would care for Mozart’s Singspiel if performed as devised by the composer. Curiously, these actors taking the Turkish roles are the blondest people on stage. Considering the percentage of people of Arabic descent in France, this has caught my attention.

Eva Mei (Konstanze), Patrizia Ciofi (Blonde), Rainer Trost (Belmonte), Mehrzar Montazeri (Pedrillo), Kurt Rydl (Osmin), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Zubin Mehta

One of the best option among videos of Entführung comes from Italy. Zubin Mehta’s performance from the Florence May Festival is thoroughly enjoyable. As he has proved in his Figaro recording from the same source, Mehta is a stylish Mozartian mainly concerned with beautiful phrasing and clarity. His orchestra’s flexible strings and the prominent woodwind are all for the best. The energetic approach and the brisk tempi plus rich recorded sound (perfect balance between orchestra and soloists) make it an agreeable Mozartian experience. Although the stage direction is a bit busy and short in insight, the traditional and colourful costumes and sceneries are certainly refreshing. I only don’t know if I like all that fuss about Osmin’s pet crocodile… Crowning the performance, there is Eva Mei’s ideally flexible Konstanze. A recipient of the Caterina Cavalieri Prize in the Mozart Competition in Vienna in 1990 for her singing of this role, she handles the coloratura nimbly, has admirable sense of Mozartian style, phrases beautifully throughout and produces floating pianissimo at will. Also, she finds true Innigkeit and poise in Traurigkeit.  Patrizia Ciofi’s creamy lyric soprano is also the right instrument for Blonde – and she really seems to be having fun playing her spunky English maid. Although Rainer Trost’s voice sounds here on the hard side, his singing is pleasant, accomplished and charming. Mehrzad Montazeri is a strong-voiced Pedrillo who produces some really full top notes in Frisch zum Kampfe. Watching the video, one tends to oversee the fact that Kurt Rydl’s voice is not a Mozartian instrument – at least not at this time of his career – since he is a funny, congenial Osmin on stage. However, the unsteadiness, approximative pitch and unclear attack can be bothersome. Markus John is an interesting Selim, his gentleness and inner conflicts making his volte-face even more believable. The camera direction is a bit eccentric: it is good to see the orchestra soloists during some arias, but I would rather look at the singers while they are singing.

Yelda Kodali (Konstanze), Desirée Rancatore (Blonde), Paul Groves (Belmonte), Lynton Atkinson (Pedrillo), Peter Rose (Osmin), Scottish Chamber Chorus and Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Charles Mackerras’s recording is the soundtrack to a film “Mozart in Turkey”. The Australian conductor can do no wrong in Mozart. The performance shows complete understanding of the score in ideal tempi and mastery of accents. The sound of the orchestra alone shows you that Pedrillo’s attitude is more bravado than bravery and it is the orchestra the one that tells you the Osmin is getting really drunk in Vivat Bacchus. The orchestra abounds in tangy, clear and characterful sounds. This would be an easy recommendation if it had a competitive cast. Yelda Kodali’s Konstanze is very reminiscent of Erika Köth, but for the fact that she tries her trills, but lacks the German’s soprano dependable intonation, especially when coloratura is involved. As a result, Martern aller Arten seems rather tentative. In her favor, one can say that she does not fake a broken heart in Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose. Desirée Rancatore’s vibrant, slightly grainy soprano is more prima donna-ish in comparison (and she would later record the role of Konstanze herself). In this almost entirely non-native speaker cast (Oliver Tobias, the Bassa Selim, is Swiss-born), her delivery of the German text is the most spontaneous – and her energetic attitude makes one understand why Osmin thinks twice before getting into a fight with this Blondchen. Paul Groves sings here all the notes Mozart wrote for Belmonte (the uncut Wenn der Freude Tränen comes as an appendix). His voice has a basic pleasant quality and he knows Mozartian style, but there are moments when he seems busy with his notes and labored rather than lithe. Lynton Atkinson is a good, dependable Pedrillo. Peter Rose’s bass here sounds surprisingly clear-toned, but he deals with the fioriture and the low notes adeptly. There is not much of an interpretation in his singing and his Osmin comes across rather blasé. German-speaking listeners will find the dialogues as spoken by the cast somewhat distressing.

Catherine Naglestad (Konstanze), Kate Lädner (Blonde), Matthias Klink (Belmonte), Heinz Göhring (Pedrillo), Roland Bracht (Osmin), Chor und Orchester der Staatsoper Stuttgart, Lothar Zagrosek

Hans Neuenfels’ staging is a complete perversion of Mozart’s Singspiel. His re-invention of the plot made the whole thing simply impossible to follow if you do not know the story already and it does not help either to use two artists for each role: a singer and an actor. It only makes the stage crowded and it is simply unnecessary considering that the singers have better physique de rôle than the actors and are themselves good actors. Worse than that – Neuenfels re-wrote (!) the dialogues, making them longer than the original ones and the result is that this ultimately looses the essential quality of comedy, which is timing. Anyway, if the musical performance were something of particular interest, one could overlook the production (or turn the image off), but the fact is that it is really undistinguished. Lothar Zagrosek’s conducting is acceptable in the ouverture, with good woodwind playing, but, once singers appear, the orchestra starts to be recorded in too recessed a way, turning the sound perspective very shallow. Also, Zagrosek’s tempi are slow and his phrasing is heavy – and his cast does not help him. Catherine Naglestadt, who would later develop towards Wagnerian repertoire, has a creamy soprano with some beautiful mezza voce effects, but she is unable to make it move – Martern aller Arten is a bumpy ride. Matthias Klink has a rather juicy, plausible voice for Belmonte. Unfortunately, he sounds too much the operetta tenor to my ears – his voice is a bit lachrymose and he is not very precise with divisions. Roland Bracht (Osmin) is the more familiar name in the cast. His bass is certainly imposing if not really Mozartian and not very comfortable in low notes. The saving grace of the production is Kate Ladner as Blonde, who has a charming, bright and clear voice and is also very funny.

Christine Schäfer (Konstanze), Patricia Petibon (Blonde), Ian Bostridge (Belmonte), Iain Paton (Pedrillo), Alan Ewing (Osmin), Les Arts Florissants, William Christie

William Christie and his team, after years of being labelled as baroque specialists, decided to explore the works of Mozart too. Even in a collection of distinguished performances, this is probably his best performance in this repertoire. The conducting is animated and his sense of structure is so strong that he succeeds in keeping the unity of the numbers as if the dialogues did not interrupt them at all. The orchestra is excellent and so is the recorded sound. He has a good cast too. Although Christine Schäfer’s voice is not exactly heroic, she sings forcefully and her Martern aller Arten has real panache. Unfortunately, the tone quality is not as varied as it should. Traurigkeit is a bit monotone – the real interest lying on Christie’s beautiful orchestral support. Patricia Petibon is an efficient Blonde and Iain Paton is also a competent Pedrillo. Ian Bostridge’s voice is light for Belmonte, but he sings with real feeling and good taste.  However, it is Alan Ewing’s Osmin who takes pride of place. He is one of the only singers in the discography to master the difficult writing without any sense of difficulty.

Christine Schäfer (Konstanze), Malin Hartelius (Blonde), Paul Groves (Belmonte), Andreas Conrad (Pedrillo), Franz Hawlata (Osmin), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Marc Minkowski

Now available on DVD, the Salzburg production of Gerard Mortier days as the festival’s director is predictably controversial. The story is transposed to modern days. So, the action takes place in a bunker surrounded with barbed wire and machine-guns. As a matter of fact, the transposition could have been effectively done if this did not include new scenes and extra dialogues (with some lines read in Arabic), which are not only irrelevant to the plot but also make the opera longer. However, the most regrettable feature is the Turkish band playing traditional music, especially right between the vaudeville and the final ensemble. The stage direction is also exaggerated in a way that disturbs singers right in the middle of their (difficult) arias. All in all, it is a blessing that those singers can act! It is difficult to assess Marc Minkowski’s conducting, since the orchestra is not clearly recorded, let alone the chorus. As it is, he adopts fast tempi and his knowledge of expressive effects is telling. The energy with which he approach numbers such as the trio for tenors and bass and Osmin’s great aria is amazing – there is a real sense of danger in the orchestra. Also, his approach to Mozartian phrasing is of great interest, especially the way he finds grace notes where other conductors see “regular” ones. Nevertheless, probably because the singers are really too busy fulfilling the director’s various wishes, there is an overall unpolished quality about the performance, especially in ensembles. Minkowski has given evidence of his talent as a Mozartian; it is a pity that he chose to record his Entführung in these eccentric circumstances. Recorded live, Christine Schäfer’s Konstanze is far less appealing than in studio. The role takes her to her very limits, preventing her from offering clear coloratura, trills or really expressive phrasing. Although she is still charming and musicianly, Malin Hartelius’s soprano lacks here some focus and does not blend really well with Schäfer’s brighter voice. As much as Schäfer, Paul Groves sounds happier in his studio recording. Here, he does display a healthy tenor which readily takes to mezza voce, but he is too often too clumsy or careless about his phrasing for comfort. One may point out that this is a difficult role to pull out live, but you only need to listen to Deon van der Walt in the Covent Garden video to see that it is perfectly possible to be an utterly stylish and musicianly Belmonte on stage. Andreas Conrad’s tenor is a bit tight, but he manages to find the right effect in both his arias and is also a congenial actor. Finally, despite all his good intentions and dramatic sense, Franz Hawlata lacks the low register for the role of Osmin.

Ingrid Habermann (Konstanze), Donna Ellen (Blonde), Piotr Beczala (Belmonte), Oliver Ringelhahn (Pedrillo), Franz Kalchmair (Osmin), Chor des Landtheaters Linz, Bruckner Orchester Linz, Martin Sieghart

The studio recording from Linz made in connection with live performances has in Martin Sieghart a conductor whose of unusual thoroughness and structural awareness. The ideally balanced orchestra is more than transparent and clear in articulation. The way every element – including soloist and chorus – relates to each other makes this an almost perfect rendition of Mozart’s score. It must be said that there are moments when Sieghart could have let himself enthuse by the dramatic action, but he invariably chooses musical values, such as in the trio with the two tenors and the bass. Even then, one will feel inclined to approve the trade-off. However, this recording’s claim-to-fame will remain the young Piotr Beczala in the role of Belmonte. At first, he sings it with an open-throated generosity of sound reminiscent of Fritz Wunderlich (SEE BELOW – MEHTA and JOCHUM), but later the voice sounds less focused and flowing, especially in Wenn der Freude, when some glitches become more evident, such as less than precise intonation and lachrymose attack. He sings a curious version of it, actually. It starts like the more florid version, but shifts back to the less florid one when the coloratura is about to get perilous. Ich baue ganz is entirely cut. Ingrid Habermann has a peculiar tonal quality – intriguingly smoky and warm until she reacher her high register. Then it hardens and acquires an almost piercing edge that doesn’t always go hand in hand with Mozartian style. She is not entirely in control of Konstanze’s coloratura either, but doesn’t let herself be defeated by it. Donna Ellen’s high notes too are on the piercing side, and yet her non-soubrettish Blonde has its charms. For once, she really gives Osmin a run for his money when she challenges him on his low notes in their duet. Oliver Ringelhahn is the only member of the cast who seems uncomfortable with the bits of dialogue they have to read. He is a bit all over the place in his big aria too. Franz Kalchmair is a superb Osmin, firm-toned, entirely at ease with the tessitura, very clear of diction. He doesn’t reach the Kurt Moll level of virtuoso quality in the fioriture, but what he manages there is above average anyway.

Ruth Ann Swenson (Konstanze), Malin Hartelius (Blonde), Hans-Peter Blochwitz (Belmonte), Manfred Fink, (Pedrillo), Kurt Rydl (Osmin), Stuttgarter Chorister, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Gianluigi Gelmetti

Recorded live in Schwetzingen in 1991, Gianluigi Gelmetti’s performance has fresh and absolutely transparent orchestral sound. Although the proceedings are animated enough, there is an absence of variety and imagination that verges on sameness – the janisseries sound polite, Belmonte’s draydeaming seem rather blank, Konstanze’s melancholy never goes beyond prettiness and Osmin is just out of the context in this china doll display. Ruth Ann Swenson could be an ideal Konstanze – the tone quality is lovely, the coloratura is effortless, she can throw high pianissimi when necessary and she is definitely stylish. However, a generalized touching quality seems to be her only expressive tool – and she has her edgy moments too. Hans-Peter Blochwitz is also stylish and dulcet-toned, but the role seems a bit high for his voice and his phrasing can have its unflowing moments. His interpretation is also a bit detached; sometimes, it seems he would rather be singing something else. Although Kurt Rydl’s singing lacks the necessary finish for Mozart, he was in firm voice here and is probably the most engaged member of this cast. Malin Hartelius and Manfred Fink offer exemplary performances of the roles of Blondchen and Pedrillo. Michael Hampe’s production lacks imagination – stage direction, sets and costumes are bland to the point of indifference.

Cheryl Studer (Konstanze), Elzbieta Szmytka (Blonde), Kurt Streit (Belmonte), Robert Gambill (Pedrillo), Günther Missenhardt (Osmin), Konzervereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Symphoniker, Bruno Weil

Although Bruno Weil has his own period-instrument band, here he has the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra on duty. His conducting is exemplary in its musicianship. He lacks a bit the sense of danger, but it is so praiseworthy in its clarity and rhythmic vitality that one easily forgives him. For a change, there is a Konstanze who is not primarily concerned about technical aspects. Although Cheryl Studer’s singing is not exactly immaculate, her generosity as a performer makes her quite a positive Konstanze, sung in full voice and in gleaming tone. Her Blonde, Elzbyeta Szmytka, has an attractive shimmering tone and good sense of comedy. As Belmonte, Kurt Streit is musicianship itself, technically accurate and the tone is warm and appealing. Robert Gambill, in his pre-Wagnerian days, is arguably the best Pedrillo in any set. Günther Missenhardt, despite an imposing bass voice,  lacks real technical fluency, but is characterful and funny. As a matter of fact, the cast really works as a team and the dialogues feature almost perfect comedy timing.

Lynne Dawson (Konstanze), Marianne Hirsti (Blonde), Uwe Heilmann (Belmonte), Wilfried Gahmlich (Pedrillo), Günther von Kannen, Chorus and Orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood

I had previously being harsher to Cristopher Hogwood’s recording, but was finally won over by its animation, sense of comedy and natural recording. Woodwind are beautifully recorded, the phrasing is expressive and there is sense of theatre overall. Best of all, this bright and sprightly approach does not thwart the deeper aspects of the score. The trio with the bass and the tenors has all the tension it needs and Traurigkeit is given all the melancholy it needs. The only moment when I feel the conductor could be more alert was in the final vaudeville, where the tempo shifts could be more boldy defined – in the rest, he is in complete control of his ideas and means. In my previous review, I called Lynne Dawson’s performance as “bossa nova”. Yes, it is too light a voice for the role and yet she does not try to make her voice sound as an important one, keeping it as natural as possible. More than that, her coloratura is really precise and she is always a tempo even in the fast pace adopted by Hogwood. Although richness of tone colouring is impossible for her, she is affecting in the freshness of her voice. Curiously, her best moment is Martern aller Arten, sung with technical mastery, good taste and fearlessness. Ach, ich liebte is a bit high for her voice and Traurigkeit needed a bit more depth. Marianne Hirsti has a a brighter tone, but finds the role a bit high too. She is refreshingly economical in her characterization. The Belmonte, Uwe Heilmann, Belmonte, has all the resources needed for his role – a pleasing tone, flexibility, mezza voce and intelligence. The tone can become overlit and his vocal production is often fluttery, though. His weakest moment is the opening aria, but he warms to a beautiful performance after all. Wilfried Gahmlich is an accomplished Pedrillo too. Gunther von Kannen is a funny unexaggerated Osmin – always congenial and imaginative. His bass baritone is a bit woolly, but he manages to produce decent divisions and has acceptable low notes. The edition is complete.

Luba Orgonasová (Konstanze), Cyndia Sieden (Blonde), Stanford Olsen (Belmonte), Uwe Peper (Pedrillo), Cornelius Hauptmann (Osmin), The Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner

In spite of a light-toned orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner manages to produce an exciting, spirited recording, keen on theatrical effects, incisive accents and swift tempi that never sag. Truth be said, it is not the most transparent recording in the discography, but differently from Harnoncourt (SEE BELOW), Gardiner clearly does not have an intellectual approach and offers an entertaining performance, satisfying both in terms of music and comedy. Curiously, the video of live performances – never officially – released is a bit dull, and the highly efficient cast here gathered is not always so adept in terms of acting. Luba Orgonasová was first noted for her bel canto roles and finds no difficulties in her coloratura and in alts. What singles her out in the discography is that she goes beyond immaculate technique and proves to have not only an instinctive notion of Mozartian style but also phrases with the tonal variety, control of dynamics and attention to the text worthy of a Lieder singer. Other than Margaret Price in the CD with highlights from Glyndebourne offers singing of such sensitivity, musicianship and depth in the role of Konstanze. Cyndia Sieden has recorded the role of the Queen of the Night for Gardiner and is not challenged by the high tessitura of Blonde’s Durch Zärtlichkeit. Her soprano is very spontaneously produced and sometimes almost suggest a pop voice. Her interpretation is accordingly unexaggerated. Stanford Olsen is a fluent Belmonte, singing with lightness and elegance throughout, but his tenor acquires a nasal quality in fioriture. As much as his Konstanze, he sings the role without any cut (including the longer Wenn der Freude ) with unfailing grace and poise. Uwe Peper is a clear-toned Pedrillo that rises impressively to the demands of his big aria. At first, Cornelius Hauptmann’s bass seems a bit lightweight for the role of Osmin, yet he handles the very low notes and the fioriture adeptly. He is also characterful and funny in a way that doesn’t tamper with musical values. The edition here is more than complete, including the march before the act 1 chorus.

Aga Winska (Konstanze), Elisabeth Hellström (Blonde), Richard Croft (Belmonte), Bengt-Ola Morgny (Pedrillo), Tamás Szüle (Osmin), Drottningholm Court Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, Arnold Östman

Arnold Östman’s video has been recorded live in Drottningholm with costumes and sets designed in the style of the XVIIIth century, although the acting style is refreshingly modern. Östman is a stylish Mozartian who makes the best of a shallow-sounding orchestra. His pace is natural and there is real understanding of structure, but the atmosphere is too polite and lacking theatricality. In her short career, Aga Winska specialized in coloratura roles such as Konstanze. She shows impressive resources not entirely under control and here is not always true to pitch. She is not is not really fluent in German and is ill at ease at her dialogues. Her performance under Harnoncourt one year earlier (SEE BELOW) is preferable. Her blonde, Elisabeth Hellström is a bit vinegarish in tone and is not intonation’s best friend either. Richard Croft’s immaculate Belmonte goes beyond the other elements in this performance. The American tenor makes little of the role’s difficult coloratura and sings with exemplary Mozartian poise. It is a pity he would not record the role again in ideal circumstances. A vivacious Pedrillo in terms of acting, Bengt-Ola Morgny is not comfortable with the impossible high notes in his aria – but he is not the only lacking the extra ounce of heft there. Tamás Szüle is the best actor in cast, but his bass lacks depth and low notes for the role of Osmin. One can also find here a young Ann Hallenberg as the alto solo in the act 1 chorus.

Aga Winska (Konstanze), Elzbieta Szmytka (Blonde), Kurt Streit (Belmonte), Wilfried Gahmlich (Pedrillo), Artur Korn (Osmin), Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Released almost 20 years after it was recorded live in the Theater an der Wien, Harnoncourt’s live performances with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra show the Austrian conductor in unusual well-behaved manners. There is little of the fussy mannerisms found in his studio release (SEE BELOW) in a performance that actually likes some forward movement and animation. In compensation, recorded with absolute clarity, the orchestral playing is transparence itself, both in terms of articulation and balance. Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann’s production is vacuous in terms of interpretation, Personenregie and insight. Its empty aestheticism looks kitsch and even ugly to moderne audiences too. This cast is superior to the one recorded in studio too. This is Aga Winska’s first official recording of the role of Konstanze. Again, her tone is attractively fruity and round and she handle the in alts admirably. She is not immaculate in her phrasing, but can offer some impressive bits of coloratura and is not indifferent to style. She struggles with the German language in dialogues, though. Another Polish soprano takes the part of Blonde, Elzbieta Szmytka, who woud later appear in the same role for Bruno Weil. Live, she is a little less true with intonation, but her bright and floated is always pleasant on the ear. Unflatteringly bewigged and wearing white boots, Kurt Streit too appears in Weil’s recording. He too offered a smoother performance in studio, but deserves praise for the elegant account of the part, including an uncut Wenn der Freude Tränen. Wilfried Gahmlich sang the role of Pedrillo in Harnoncourt’s studio recording (SEE BELOW) and handles the heroic writing of his aria without flinching. Artur Korn’s bass is more serviceable than formidable. The voice has pleasant tonal quality, he handles the patter with ease and, if his low notes are not rich and dark, they are firm enough. The fioriture, however, are dispatched with more than a little help from the conductor, who relaxes the tempo for him in a way unheard in the discography. Hilmar Thate is a tormented, intense Selim, a bit out of the context in such an uneventful staging.

Inga Nielsen (Konstanze), Lilian Watson (Blonde), Deon van der Walt (Belmonte), Lars Magnusson (Pedrillo), Kurt Moll (Osmin), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti

Live in London, Georg Solti’s animation and sense of forward movement deliver a performance of less poise and clarity compared to what he achieved in studio in Vienna, and the less distinguished playing of the orchestra in Covent Garden is hard to overlook. The recorded sound doesn’t help either – it has variable perspective for the singers on stage and the balance with the pit is problematic too. Elijah Moshinsky’s production involves the beige sets the Royal Opera House is so fond of and which, furthermore, look quite drab. The staging itself is a parade of clichés, some of them quite politically incorrect for the XXIst century. It features Oliver Tobias in his first entry as the Pasha Selim in the discography (he repeats the role in the film related to Charles Mackerras’s recording – SEE ABOVE). The video quality too is less than ideal, the image faded and in poor focus. Inga Nielsen would eventually center her career in heavier repertoire, with roles ranging from Bellini’s Norma to R. Strauss’s Salome. Her roundness of tone, unfailing focus, ease with low tessitura were an evidence of what would come. Her coloratura is fluent and she manages the in alts, but intonation is dodgy. Lilian Watson is here in better voice than she was for Harnoncourt (SEE BELOW) and offers a vivacious performance as Blonde. Lars Magnusson is a dependable Pedrillo, a bit too prone on cute effects. Deon van der Walt is a light, agile Belmonte, but it is Kurt Moll this performance’s shining feature. The great German bass displays at once virtuoso quality, impressive control of the tessitura and real talent for comic acting. This is, above all, an important memento of Kurt Moll’s unrivalled Osmin.

Edita Gruberová (Konstanze), Kathleen Battle (Blonde), Gösta Winbergh (Belmonte), Heinz Zednik (Pedrillo), Martti Talvela (Osmin), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Georg Solti

There are many things to recommend Georg Solti’s studio recording: a stellar cast and the Vienna Philharmonic, to start with. Mozart was very much in the core of Solti’s repertoire – both live and in studio – although his recordings of Mozart operas have been considered too driven and lacking variety. One must acknowledge that he always proved to have a good ear for orchestral balance in this repertoire and a commendable sense of forward movement. Here, these qualities are evident too. This is a tricky score: from one side, there are the Turkish numbers with colorful instrumentation and bold rhythms (and this is the part in which Solti excels, especially helped by a Vienna Philharmonic ready to offer some earthy sounds when this is needed); on the other side, there are the soft affetti of Konstanze’s and Belmonte’s arias. There too, as we first hear Konstanze, dich wieder zu sehen and Ach, ich liebte, one has the impression that here, finally, a conductor is letting things move on, but Blondchen’s Durch Zärtlichkeit seems to go nowhere. In the big quartet, the more lyric passages seem to loose steam only to be electroshocked minutes later back to life in the usual swift pace. According to the booklet, the idea of recording this opera came to Solti’s mind while listening to Edita Gruberová singing  Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose in concert. I wonder if some of the moments where things get a bit loose are not the result of his intent to give his distinguished soloists all the time they need. In any case, the eschewal of cuteness will always be this set’s strongest asset. Gruberová, for instance, is almost ostensively at ease in the almost impossible role of Konstanze, challenging all other sopranos who ever sang it, making things even more difficult by throwing some extremely high pianissimi in moments other singers are just trying to survive. Yet her interpretative variety sometimes gets dangerously close to mannerism. It is sad that Kathleen Battle was not in her best form in a rola that in theory is cut for her voice. Some high notes sound shrill and piercing, for example. That said, her Blondchen is clearly someone you don’t want to fight with and that’s an undeniable advantage in a role usually sung too daintily. Gösta Winbergh is the tenor who comes closer too Fritz Wunderlich (SEE BELOW) in his ardent, open-throated account of the role of Belmonte. However, he cannot compete with Wunderlich in roundness of tone and in technical finesse and sometimes he is more even more ardent in his vocalism than the legendary German tenor. That could never be called a drawback, though. It is always a pleasure to hear someone who would develop towards Wagnerian repertoire sing Mozart with such a dulcet tone and flexibility. As much as his Blondchen, Heinz Zednik was not in his best voice when he recorded this. He is ill at ease in his big aria and sinks into the background most of the time. Martti Talvela’s Osmin, at this point of his career, is a matter of craft rather than nature. He has almost one inflection per word, makes funny voices and is a bit cavalier now and then with pitch and note values. And with Mozartian style, above all. The voice remains, though, firm and has the right roughness for the part.

Yvonne Kenny (Konstanze), Lilian Watson (Blonde), Peter Schreier (Belmonte), Wilfried Gahmlich (Pedrillo), Matti Salminen (Osmin), Chor der Oper Zürich, Mozartorchester Opernaus Zürich, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

The first historically informed performance in the discography is conducted – rather emphatically – by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. There is no cuteness to be found here. The orchestra – including what Mozart contemporaries would call “Turkish” instruments and differently pitched clarinets and horns – produces a stingy sound that complete the impression of excitement, tension that befit a rescue opera, but not necessarily create the right atmosphere for the more lyric numbers, who could do with a lighter touch from the conductor. Differently from many above-listed  “period instrument” performances, Harnoncourt’s are never hectic. He seems more inclined to show every color, every accent in the score and needs some time to achieve that, sometimes too slowly (especially in the duet with Belmonte and Konstanze).  Although this CDs can be irritatingly eccentric at moments, there are too illuminating moments in the conductor’s intent of not following traditions he considers spurious to Mozart’s original ideas. Not for repeated hearings, but definitely worth once in a while. The role of Konstanze is quite a stretch for Yvonne Kenny and, even if the tonal quality is pleasant and she phrases with charm and good taste, the sound is too often edgy for comfort. With the conductor’s very generous idea of ad libitum and the smoothest accompaniment one could imagine, she sings a very sweet Martern aller arten, what seems a bit self-defeating concept. Lilian Watson’s shimmering soprano has its unfocused moments, yet she fits in the concept’s performance in her absolute lack of affectation. In his second recording (SEE BELOW), Peter Schreier finally gets to sing Belmonte’s arias complete. At this point, his tenor sounds a bit dry and metallic (especially when he sings the vowel “ee”). He displays his customary understanding of Mozartian style, offering beautiful mezza voce and fluent coloratura (albeit of the kind in which runs are made in groups of two notes). Wilfried Gahmlich is a fresht-toned Pedrillo, the high notes tight, but not disturbingly so. Matti Salminen’s boss is foreign to Mozartian singing, but he relishes the opportunity of offering a truly boorish Osmin, with all the off-pitch effects included. The chorus here adopts a strange, nasal sound that ends up being bizarre rather than characteristic. 

Edita Gruberová (Konstanze), Reri Grist (Blonde), Francisco Araiza (Belmonte), Norbert Orth (Pedrillo), Martti Talvela (Osmin), Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Karl Böhm

Karl Böhm’s video from Munich was recorded when the conductor was 86. Although the tempi are still slow, the approach is surprisingly energetic. An outstanding moment is the quartet Ach, Belmonte, when the conductor shows he still can generate excitement when this is necessary. The Bavarian State Opera orchestra offers playing of superior quality –  clear woodwind and clear and articulate phrasing from the strings. There is some lack of synchrony between the stage and the pity, however. The recorded sound is also excellent, providing weight, spaciousness and clarity. I think that this might be Edita Gruberová’s best Konstanze. She was in her firmest and healthiest voice and not only does she avoid mannerisms, but her detractors will not be able to accuse her of scooping in any way here. Nobody sings this role live with such energy and ease – in the end of Martern aller Arten, the audience just goes wild. Reri Grist is never on this level – she has intonation problems in Durch Zärtlichkeit, but counts with the useful quality of being hearable in ensembles. Francisco Araiza was in dulcet yet forceful voice.. It is a pity Ich baue ganz is cut and Wenn der Freuden is shown in its simplified version, for Araiza sings sensitively and stylishly throughout. Norbert Orth is a powerful Pedrillo – his top notes in Frisch zum Kampfe are simply awesome. Although he is better voice here than in Solti’s recording, Martti Talvela still has poor notion of Mozartian style, intonation problems, difficulty with the lower notes and is careless about note values. Sometimes I had the impression that the pitch was a bit higher here, which would benefit Gruberová and Talvela, but, if this is true, it didn’t help him much. August Everding’s staging is too 70’s for my taste, but costumes are beautiful. His stage direction is almost unbearably artificial, but everybody in the cast follows it with conviction and animation, particularly Grist and Orth, but the Selim is too dispeptic. There are some charming ideas now and then and, in the end, one tends to forgive the drawbacks.

Edita Gruberová (Konstanze), Gudrun Ebel (Blonde), Francisco Araiza (Belmonte), Norbert Orth (Pedrillo), Roland Bracht (Osmin), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Heinz Wallberg

This studio recording made in Munich is a memento of singers who would appear in the leading opera houses in the world in these roles. Edita Gruberová was a brilliant Konstanze with effortless coloratura, absolute ease in high tessitura and perfect control of dynamics. The very radiance of her voice makes it particularly difficult to record. Later she would learn to make it more microphone-friendly. Here, however, it can sound metallic and sometimes even piercing. As her sense of style and expression are quite improved in her subsequent recordings, I would recommend this only to die-hard Gruberová fans. Francisco Araiza’s voice was here already ideal for Mozart roles  – warm, flexible and full – but, as much as his prima donna – his later recording with Karl Böhm shows further refinement in elegance and sense of line. As for Roland Bracht, this is probably his best recorded performance in any Mozart opera: the sound is ideally dark and forward and the roughness still added some zest to the proceedings. Gudrun Ebel sounds like a last-minute replacement as Blondchen – the sense of pitch is not truly reliable and the voice is less than ideally focused. Norbert Orth is not particularly adept in classical style, but has top notes to make some Heldentenöre envious. Wallberg presides over this gemütlich performance in the kapellmeister manner: tempi are fluent enough, balance is very commendable and structures are clear, but the plush-sounding orchestral sound makes crystalline articulation almost impossible. The recorded sound is a bit overblown, especially when the chorus is involved. Dialogues are given to actors, who deliver their extended lines with some affectation.

Christiane Eda-Pierre (Konstanze), Norma Burrowes (Blonde), Stuart Burrows (Belmonte), Robert Tear (Pedrillo), Robert Lloyd (Osmin), John Alldis Choir, Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, Colin Davis

Colin Davis’s recording features ideal Mozartian orchestral playing from the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, the strings a bit dry to allow absolute clarity and prominent woodwind throughout. Although the conductor has absolute mastery of the score, he seems to understood it in purely musical terms. This recording lacks sense of theatre; even when it is all right animated, this seems to happen for purely rhythmical reasons unrelated to the events in the plot. Some arias – in spite of all the charming sounds produced by these musicians – could be less about poise and grace and would benefit from a more flowing beat. This abstract approach seems to have had a discouraging effect in the cast here gathered, one of the first entirely composed of singers outside the ensembles of Austrian or German opera houses. Christiane Eda-Pierre had sung the role of Konstanze at the Paris Opera under Karl Böhm two years before and, judging from in-house recordings, it must be true that she was probably ill during the recording sessions in London. As heard in these CDs, her voice lacks an iota of brightness and freedom, but still it is a voice that exerts fascination, especially in this repertoire. It is uniquely warm, round, full-toned and slightly smoky and it runs seamlessly throughout the entire range. Although she never strays from Mozartian style, her energetic manner sometimes come across as a bit stiff, especially if one thinks of a singer like Arleen Augér in this role. Her diction is unusually clear for such a rich-voiced soprano, but her German sounds sometimes overcareful. Her partnership with British tenor Stuart Burrows is curiously effective. His tenor, not immediately attractive in tone, is more ringing and incisive around the passaggio than what one usually hears in singers in this repertoire. Moreover, he is evidently acquainted with classical style, but, as his Konstanze, he is a bit emphatic and could do with a little bit more poise. Also, his German is slightly accented. Together, he and Eda-Pierre sing a surprisingly forceful duet. Here one really believes that they are ready and glad to defy death together. Norma Burrowes was Eda Pierre’s Blondchen in Paris. She is a pure-toned, light and utterly musicianly Blonde who eschews exaggerations. Her Pedrillo, Robert Tear, on the other hand, is mannered and has patches of nasality in his singing, but is otherwise unproblematic in what regards the singing itself. Robert Lloyd has the voice for the role – it is dark, deep and flexible (including a trillo di capra that often stands for a real trill). Maybe it is the difficult patter in German, for he does not sound truly at ease and is not really funny as Osmin. This could have been explored as an effect in itself, but one feels rather that he is just busy with all these consonants and all these notes.

Zdzislawa Donat (Konstanze), Barbara Vogel (Blonde), Horst Laubenthal (Belmonte), Norbert Orth (Pedrillo), Martti Talvela (Osmin), Chor und Orchester des Deutschen Oper, Berlin, Gary Bertini

The performance released by Arthaus was caught live by ZDF TV channel at the Deutsche Oper, in less than perfect recorded sound. The orchestra is recessed and, as singers move on stage, there can be some change in the way microphones capture their voices. Günther Rennert’s production looks a bit older than its age in its paper sets and absolutely no spontaneity. That said, its quaint charm might take you by surprise. Gary Bertini is a strict Mozartian that likes to stick to the tempo. This makes this performance quite different from other recordings from the 70’s in its fast pace and absence of self-indulgence. The Deutsche Oper forces are surprisingly flexible for an orchestra famous in Wagner.  Zdzislawa Donat made an international career singing the Queen of the Night, and this Entführung is her only official opera release other than James Levine’s studio Magic Flute. She has a peculiar voice – tubular in emission and sweet of tone, very spare in vibrato. Some of her pure-toned high notes could have been produced by a woodwind instrument. She handles well the fast tempi, but is fond of pecking at notes and her coloratura involves a lot of staccato and unwritten pauses. Differently from other Konstanzes of similar grain of voice (Erika Köth, for instance), she acquits herself really well in Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose, sung here with a sincerity of feeling found nowhere else in her performance. Her Blonde, Barbara Vogel, is below the standards of this discography. Erratic in pitch and almost raspish of tone, she adapts her entrance aria to avoid its in alts. Horst Laubenthal sings in a healthy, round-toned and flexible tenor and avoids Romantic excesses, phrasing with elegance throughout. He is spared of Ich baue ganz, though. Norbert Orth is consistent with his other recorded performances in the discography. The conductor’s disciplinarian beat had a positive effect on Martti Talvela, here offering his best Osmin. He seriously tackles his fioriture, is a bit more respectful of the rules of classical style, is in good voice  (the extreme low notes still elude him, though) and is even funnier than in video from the Bavarian State Opera (SEE ABOVE).

Arleen Augér (Konstanze), Reri Grist (Blonde), Peter Schreier (Belmonte), Harald Neukirch (Pedrillo), Kurt Moll (Osmin), Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Staatskapelle Dresden, Karl Böhm

Karl Böhm’s studio recording features excellent stereo sound and the flexible playing of Staatskapelle Dresden. His conducting is, however, on the  slow side for modern ears, sometimes for expressive effects, as in his almost Beethovenian approach to the final vaudeville.  When Dr. Böhm does opt for animated tempi, such as in the first section of the overture and in the Osmin/Belmonte/Pedrillo trio, the results can be quite persuasive, although the atmosphere is mostly on the cute side. That said, the cast is so accomplished that it remains a model of good singing in this opera. Arleen Augér is a light-toned Konstanze, undisturbed by the virtuosistic demands of the role, Peter Schreier was in beautiful and flexible voice (the edition, however, has the part of Belmonte with the then usual cuts) – together with his Tito (also for Böhm), his best Mozart performance recorded – and Kurt Moll is the unsurpassed Osmin in the discography. His bass is deeper, more flexible and beautiful than anyone else’s. And he is really funny too. Harald Neukirch is a light, open-toned Pedrillo, but Reri Grist’s soprano sounds excessively nasal here and her high notes are not always secure. I also regret that the dialogues were given to actors instead of the singers.

Ingeborg Hallstein (Konstanze), Reri Grist (Blonde), Luigi Alva (Belmonte), Gerhard Unger (Pedrillo), Fernando Corena (Osmin), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta first conducted Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1966 with Anneliese Rothenberger and Fritz Wunderlich, one of this performances recorded and intermittently available on CD. The next year, an international cast (a rarity in a Singspiel those days) was gathered and recorded in black and white by TV in the same production by Giorgio Strehler available in a recording made at La Scala in 2017 led again by Mehta. This performance shows the Indian conductor’s knowledge of Mozartian style, in a forward-moving, clear and spirited performance. One can see that some singers were new to their parts and the attentive eye and ear of the conductor was providential to keep the performance in track as smoothly as it was. Ingeborg Hallstein was a favorite in coloratura parts in operetta and, other than a voice too light for the part, had nothing to fear in this fearsome part. It is said that she was ill during this recording and one can hear here a breathiness one would never associate with her usually crystalline singing. As it is, she tackles her fioriture with complete abandon, tiptoes some of her in alts and avoids affectation, keeping with a clean line that befits Mozart’s music. She is not truly expressive, though. This is Reri Grist’s best Konstanze, her voice forward, bright and spontaneous. She and Gerhard Unger’s clear-toned Pedrillo are above the rest of the cast in term of acting. Luigi Alva was a not occasional visitor to Mozart’s music, as one can hear in Giulini’s Don Giovanni or Klemperer’s Così fan tutte, and that only makes one wonder why he was so ill at east here. One could say that he seldom sang in German, but the truth is that he handles the spoken lines better than the sung text. Furthermore, he is too self-indulgent in terms of portamento, his phrasing is heavy-handed and – even in a simplified Ich baue ganz – smears his coloratura in a way unacceptable for a Rossini tenor. He does not sing Wenn der Freude. Fernando Corena too has a lot to deal with: a language he is not really comfortable with, a cumbersome costume and a tessitura just in the limits of his possibilities. Nevertheless, he faces it all with panache and, when he finds some leeway, even adds funny and unexaggerated interpretative touches both in singing and acting.

Anneliese Rothenberger (Konstanze), Lucia Popp (Blonde), Nicolai Gedda (Belmonte), Gerhard Unger (Pedrillo), Gottlob Frick (Osmin), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Josef Krips

It is hard to explain the reason why Josef Krips’s recording does not take off. On paper, it looks more tempting, with its glamorous cast and ideal orchestra. The Vienna Philharmonic is beyond any reproach. Even required to produce a more Romantic sound, the orchestra achieves that without any loss of clarity and flexibility. As a matter of fact, in terms of balance, Krips could hardly be faulted: this is a structurally coherent performance that one can follow without the need of a score. The problem has more to do with the intention behind the notes. Krips seems unconcerned with theatre and leads the performance as if he were conducting symphonic music plus the soloists. This has a particularly negative effect in his prima donna. Anneliese Rothenberg’s pellucid, homogeneous, shimmering soprano is, in terms of sound alone, a good vehicle for Konstanze and, in spite of some now old-fashioned turns of phrasing, her singing is almost immaculate, but it seems she is operating on autopilot mode. Nicolai Gedda too is in honeyed voice and sings with exemplary legato. Curiously – and considering his keenness on producing floating mezza voce and perfect trills – it is difficult to understand why he takes so many liberties to procure himself extra breath pauses. It is also most frustrating the fact that he doesn’t sing Ich baue ganz. Lucia Popp’s voice sounds so soubrettish here that is is almost hard to recognize her someone who would later sing lyric Wagner roles. This does not make her less charming and musicianly. Gerhard Unger is so funny in his dialogues and sings with so much spontaneity that it is hard to resist. Gottlob Frick too is funny, but the rawness is a bit too raw and the low notes are less comfortable than they should.

Erika Köth (Konstanze), Lotte Schädle (Blonde), Fritz Wunderlich (Belmonte), Friedrich Lenz (Pedrillo), Kurt Böhme (Osmin), Chor der Bayerische Staatsoper, Bayerische Staatsorchester, Eugen Jochum

Although Jochum adopts a full, string-oriented orchestral sound, the swift accents, the forward movement and sense of theatre keep it within the realms of Mozartian style, a pinch of Beethoven but not enough too spoil the fun. The Bavarian State Orchestra responds adeptly and offers multicolored sound throughout. This recording’s claim to fame, however, is the casting of Fritz Wunderlich in the role of Belmonte. His is certainly the richest, fullest and arguably the most beautiful voice recorded in this role (and he sings the complete Ich baue ganz). Nobody could fault him of any lapse in musicianship, but there are some tics of ardent tenorism such as portamento and emphatic high notes that could bother some purists. No one would consider this the redhibitory feature in these CDs – rather the fact that it has two Blondchens and seriously wants a Konstanze. It is commendable that Erika Köth did not try to produce something nature refused her: the voice of a Mozartian prima donna. Her soubrettish soprano – flexible as it is – cannot help sounding twittery and coy. She cannot trill either, and she is desperate with what she has to do in the end of Martern aller Arten. Sometimes, she deals with her staccato and melisme with the text vowel, what is praiseworthy, but not always. Lotte Schädle’s bell-toned soprano is more pleasing on the ear and yet she has the habit of pecking at notes. Friedrich Lenz is a firm-toned Pedrillo with ringing top notes, while Kurt Böhme does some strange adaptions in the text to deal with the extreme low notes and the fioriture. He disguises it with “acting with the voice” and is otherwise very funny and boorish sounding.

Anneliese Rothenberger (Konstanze), Reri Grist (Blonde), Fritz Wunderlich (Belmonte), Gerhard Unger (Pedrillo), Fernando Corena (Osmin), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta

The Strehler/Mehta Salzburg was broadcast in its first season with a very glamorous cast involving singers who would appear in studio recordings in the following years. Mehta’s energetic approach to the score is very much as one would hear in 1966, although here the level of mismatches between the stage and the pit is marginally higher. The conductor had a good influence on his prima donna – although Anneliese Rothenberger’s singing is not faultless as in studio, here she sounds plugged in and involved rather than sleepwalking as in Krips’s recording. Reri Grist sounds as lovely as she would in 1966. Fritz Wunderlich is in exceptional voice as Belmonte, even better than in studio, but also freer in style. This surprisingly involves some ornamentation. Here he sings a simplified version of Ich baue ganz and no Wenn der Freude. It is amazing how much of Gerhard Unger’s stage performance is carried in his singing alone. He is as good as he would be the following year (and in studio). Fernando Corena’s Osmin is here a bit over the top and would find its ideal level of expression on video.

Jutta Vulpius (Konstanze), Rosmarie Rönsch (Blonde), Rolf Apreck (Belmonte), Jürgen Förster (Pedrillo), Arnold van Mill (Osmin), Chor der Staatsoper Dresden, Staatskapelle Dresden, Otmar Suitner

As in his studio recording of Die Zauberflöte, the great asset of Otmar Suitner’s CDs are the flexible playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden, which can be sampled in more glamorous circumstances in Karl Böhm’s recording. Suitner, however, is often more animated in tempo and lighter in perspective than Dr. Böhm. The cast, does not survive the competition, though. Jutta Valpius has good intentions and is a sensitive singer, but lacks the technique to really do Konstanze justice. Even Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose tests her: the voice looses color and focus in high notes and often sound breathy and/or tremulous. The shift to her low register is quite bumpy too, and there are moments when she sounds frankly worn. Curiously, she acquits herself rather decently with the coloratura and – even with the above-mentioned problems – sounds confident both in Ach, ich liebte and Martern aller Arten. Rosmarie Rönsch’s soprano is sometimes reminiscent of Rita Streich’s. Her high register is less bright and consistent, though. She is a charming Blonde. Rolf Apreck is a puzzling choice for the role of Belmonte. The voice is not particularly appealing, his phrasing is awkward for this music and he has moments of dubious intonation. The deletion of Ich baue ganz is no great loss in these circumstances. The same words could be used to describe Jürgen Förster’s Pedrillo. Arnold van Mill is the most notable name in the cast – and one hears why. Even if his Osmin sounds like a humourless person’s attempt at being funny, the velvety tonal quality, the spacious low notes, the clean phrasing are more than compensation for accented German and an often bleached high register. The original release had dialogues delivered by a group of actors.

Lois Marshall (Konstanze), Ilse Hollweg (Blonde), Leopold Simoneau (Belmonte), Gerhard Unger (Pedrillo), Gottlob Frick (Osmin), Beecham Choral Society, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Beecham

Thomas Beecham’s recording features a curious edition, in which both Martern aller Arten and Wenn der Freude are transferred to act III, Traurigkeit is trimmed and Ich baue ganz is done away with. Dialogues are drastically shortened, actors replacing the Canadian members of the cast. His approach to the more colourful numbers (the overture, choruses and ensembles) is energetic and elegant at the same time, surprisingly fresh considering its age. Unfortunately, Konstanze’s and Belmonte’s arias sound lifeless, slow and lacking purpose. Lois Marshall is the sweetest toned Konstanze in the discography – her lyric soprano is always clear, round, easy and flexible and that is pretty much it. After a while, one just wishes for some variety and feeling, but – and that is a big “but” – considering this is 1956, one is bound to be surprised to find that there is not a drop of kitsch in her singing. The bell-toned Ilse Hollweg pecks at notes and sleepwalks through the part, but avoids the under-the-note expressive effects typical of those days. This recording used to be famous for Leopold Simoneau’s Belmonte. For all this tenor’s smoothness around the passaggio, long breath and seamless legato, the performance does sound museological for someone who has listened to Fritz Wunderlich, Francisco Araiza et al. His German is inert, he has a fondness for off-pitch effects and some turns of phrasing are just downright tacky. If someone is curious for the deleted aria, it comes as a bonus, together with other tenor arias, in the second CD. Gerhard Unger, as always, is a pleasant Pedrillo, but the shining feature in this performance remains Gottlob Frick’s boorish, menacing yet funny Osmin, here far fresher in tone than he would be for Krips (SEE ABOVE).

Maria Stader (Konstanze), Rita Streich (Blonde), Ernst Haefliger (Belmonte), Martin Vantin (Pedrillo), Josef Greindl (Osmin), RIAS Kammerchor, RIAS Symphonie-Orchester, Ferenc Fricsay

At moments, Fricsay’s conducting of the RIAS orchestra makes one think of recordings that would be made decades later – this is a musically impeccable performance, with every note and every accent in the orchestral parts rendered to the right effect and recorded in ideal balance. There is a sense of forward movement that would make it ideal, if the conductor did not succumb to a certain cuteness related to Mozart performances in the 50’s. In that sense, the cast has a greater share of responsibility. Maria Stader, for instance, is an example of homogeneous, creamy, pure-toned singing – and she is more than reasonably fluent in her coloratura. Nevertheless, her Konstanze never goes beyond elegant melancholy, even in Martern aller Arten. She sometimes abandons the text for vocalizing with “ah”, something her Belmonte does at least once. Ernst Haefliger too is exemplary in his poised, dulcet-toned singing and is five percent more involved than his Konstanze. His voice is a bit light and one can hear that in moments such as the trio with Pedrillo and Osmin. He sings a very simplified version of Ich baue ganz. Rita Streich’s soprano sounds a bit glassy here, but she sings with instrumental poise and is charming in a rather nonchalant way. Martin Vantin’s tenor is extremely light in a way that suggests rather the musical theatre, and his Pedrillo is discrete to a fault. The way Josef Greindl sings his text, with the right degree of roughness and congeniality, is this recording’s shining feature. He has some bumpy moments – as almost anyone else – with some tricky passages, but overall this is an extremely effective performance. In the short bits of dialogue, only he and Streich deliver their own lines.

Marilyn Tyler (Konstanze), Helen Petrich (Blonde), John van Kesteren (Belmonte), Karl Schiebener (Pedrillo), August Giebel (Osmin), Kölner Opernchor, Gürzenich Orchester Köln, Otto Ackermann

Even if the forces available to Otto Ackermann are not on a par with some of the glamorous ensembles in many famous recordings in this discography, the results achieved here at second to none: this is an exciting, stylish and adept performance. The conductor finds in the context of fast tempi always the right theatrical and musical balance without ever forcing his hand. The orchestral sound is not terribly beautiful, but is made to work in a performance that goes beyond elegance straight to stylishness. The recorded sound is far from ideal (dialogues are recorded in such resonant acoustics that one has the impression that the cast had to be in a tunnel), but does not spoil the fun. Marilyn Tyler’s light, grainy soprano is extremely flexible, but she has to resort to adaptations (including unwritten pauses and vocalising without the text) to deal with many a tricky passage. She is not very expressive either. Helen Petrich’s Blondchen is similarly very light – her high notes sometimes sound almost as if she were whistling. She still manages to sing with animation if not with imagination. John van Kesteren’s featherweight Belmonte comes in one colour only and yet he manages to sing the difficult part without flinching in an almost instrumental way. Karl Schiebener’s Pedrillo is marred by tacky comical touches. He survives Frisch zum Kampfe better than most, though. August Griebel’s Osmin is frankly bizarre – he sounds like a cabaret baritone who deals with this music as if it were nothing but slapstick. There are some internal trimming in numbers like the duet between Konstanze and Belmonte.