One of Mozart's more popular works, this "charming yet vocally challenging farce" was his eleventh complete opera. It tells the story of the nobleman Belmonte's attempts to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of the Pasha Selim. The three-act piece falls into the category of "Singspiel" or "song play," in that the plot is carried forward largely by spoken dialogue, thus challenging the idea that a true "opera" must be completely through-sung. The score avoids the use of recitative and consists mainly of individual musical numbers, similar in structure to what we know as musical theatre. A comedy, this unique composition also utilizes plot and character devices pioneered by the Commedia dell'Arte.
Structural conventions aside, Serail is primarily noted for boasting some some of the composer's most spectacular and difficult arias, gaining it even greater legitimacy and reverence due to the vocal challenges involved. Included in the score is Konstanze's infamous "Martern aller Arten" ("Tortures of all kinds"), a long and elaborate sequence that has humbled many a soprano over the years. It is this very same aria that, in the movie Amadeus, was comically decried by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II as having "too many notes."
This time out, Konstanze is being taken on by acclaimed German soprano Diana Damrau, whose stratospheric coloratura is no stranger to the Met, having previously delighted in such productions as Die Zauberfl‹te (Queen of the Night), Ariadne auf Naxos (Zerbinetta) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Rosina).
This October Damrau will reportedly return to Lincoln Center to add yet another of the great starring roles to her already extensive repertoire. She is set to step in for a pregnant Anna Netrebko in Mary Zimmerman's staging of Lucia di Lammermoor- the same production that opened this past Met season with Natalie Dessay in the title role. Netrebko plans to sing the second leg of Lucia in January. Among her many future engagements, Damrau has announced tentative plans to step into another Dessay role when she joins Juan Diego Fl‹rez in a 2009 San Francisco production of Laurent Pelly's La Fille du R_giment.
Bringing elegant lyricism to the role of Belmonte is young American tenor Matthew Polenzani, who was recently awarded the third annual $50,000 Beverly Sills Artist Award - the largest of its kind in the United States - designated for extraordinarily gifted singers between the ages of 25 and 40. The Illinois native has already sung 27 roles with the Met since his 1997 debut as Khrushchov in Boris Godunov. Favorites with the company include Ferrando in CosÐ fan tutte, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Tamino in Julie Taymor's 2004 Die Zauberfl‹te. Met audiences will see him reprise his Ottavio next season.
Also featured in the cast are Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak as the maid Blondchen, Malaysian tenor Steve Davislim as the servant Pedrillo, Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as Osmin and German actor Matthias von Stegmann in the non-singing role of Pasha. Production is by John Dexter, with David Robertson conducting.
Having begun its run April 26, the two remaining performances of Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail will take place May 3 at 1:30 PM and May 7 at 8 PM. Tickets are still available at press time.
For more information and tickets visit www.metopera.org
Read Diana Damrau and Matthew Polenzani's thoughts on the vocal demands of the piece in William Berger's Playbill Feature Article, Vocal Ease.
* * * * * * * *
All photos by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera.