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OPERA REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Friday, July 15, 2016
Festival Orchestra, Alan Pollack, conductor. Directed by Erin Neff. Singers: Phil Meyer (Osmin); Chester Pidduck (Pedrillo); Nikki Einfeld (Konstanze); Molly Phelan (Blonde); Sergio Gonzales (Belmonte)

Molly Phelan (l) and Paul Thompson (r) with Seraglio Cast Curtain Call July 15

ONE-NIGHT STAND AT MMF'S ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO

by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 15, 2016

Mozart’s Opera “Abduction from the Seraglio” has a long reputation as being tough for singers, and it was with some trepidation that I entered the Mendocino Music Festival’s massive white tent July 15 to hear and see the new production from the 30th season. Not to Worry.

Conducted by Festival Artistic Director Allan Pollack, the three-act work from 1782 was staged with minimal sets and a small cast of six. As in past MMF operas the orchestra was placed behind the sets, and the tent’s direct and non-reverberation sound was fresh and live, though as in Wagner’s Festspielhaus not seeing the conductor and bow movement can seem disconcerting.

Erin Neff directed the production that was sung in the original German with English supertitles positioned in the middle of the set and long intra-aria monologues, also in English. Set lighting and costumes were minimal.

Bass Phil Meyer (Osmin) dominated the first act with antics that bordered on slapstick, with plot twists in the Turkish harem pitting Sergio González (Belmonte) against Pasha Selim (Paul Thompson) and Osmin to rescue ladies captured by ersatz pirates. Mr. Thompson had a commanding deep speaking voice and Mr. Meyer captured throughout the three acts the comic nuances of Osmin’s villainy. His legs had ample spring.

A highlight of Act II, and perhaps the entire opera, was Nikki Einfeld’s (Konstanze) extended aria “Martern Aller Arten” where she nailed the character’s romantically faithful pain and lament, and with the subsequent mundane torture scene brought down the house with loud applause. In these sections of the score Mr. Pollack drew lovely playing from the horns and timpanist Mark Veragge, and a bevy of short solos from of cello (Stephen Harrison), flute (Mindy Rosenfeld) and clarinet (Eric Kritz). In this music one could hear snippets of Mozart (other operas, the “Jupiter” Symphony) that would appear in the following decade, and Mr. Pollack made a deft selection of tempos that elegantly supported the singers.

A foil for both Osmin and Pedrillo (Chester Pidduck) was the lively Molly Phelan, playing Blonde with great panache but with pinched notes in the high treble. The famous quartet, mirroring the duos and arias “Durch Zärtichkeit und Schmeichein” and Welch Ein Geschick,” easily established for the singers and the audience of 600 that devoted and steadfast love would conquer the Pasha’s seduction demands and Osmin’s murderous threats.

Mr. González’s voice on this evening lacked a rich tenor glow but had enough projection to carry to the back of the tent, and Mr. Pedrillo’s big moments during the third act’s midnight scene, when escape for all four is at hand, was both urgent and funny. After the singer’s release from Seraglio captivity the conductor drove the music to a potent conclusion, and then joined Ms. Neff and the cast on stage for an extended ovation.

A common request for Festival listeners is to ask for repeat performances of opera productions, but alas, like in past seasons, this masterly opera was mounted just for one night. The composer surely would have demanded more.