The opulent red and gold interior of Hackney Empire made a perfect setting for the launch of ETO’s production of Mozart’s knockabout Seraglio. Written in 1782 as an escape drama, and set in a sultan’s harem, the opera deals with issues as contemporary as Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. The question of the freedom of women, and men, is hotly and humorously debated. Mozart treats the subject matter with the perfect balance of levity and profundity.
The lover Belmonte arrives first on the scene, in pursuit of Konstanze who has been abducted by pirates with her maid Blonde and his servant Pedrillo. John-Colin Gyeantey’s energy and gift for visual humour brings real pace to the production, his light, sunny tenor expressing the power of love to conquer all obstacles. Belmonte had not reckoned with Osmin, the sultan’s bodyguard; immense in stature and vocal power; Matthew Stiff steals every scene with his gorgeous, resonant bass and impressive acting abilities.
The captured Konstanze first appears as a prisoner in a golden cage, a fantastic visual coup by designer Adam Wilshire and another reminder about the plight of many women throughout history who have lives without agency. Lucy Hall is a grave and stately Konstanze, respectful to the Pasha. As her voice warmed up, her complete assurance and real style became apparent. Blonde, played by Nazan Fikret, charms with comic timing and vocal pyrotechnics; her initial scene with Osmin is side-splitting, as his gentle massage turns into painful karate chops, as Fikret makes it clear who is the master and who the slave. The Pasha, Alexander Andreou, dignified and compelling, provides the moral of the tale.
The only weakness is the lack of projection in the spoken text, by all but Stiff and Andreou, and the bland translation. All in all, though, this is an effervescent and visually rewarding (touring) production, with many meaningful moments.