The Abduction from the Seraglio | Opera review

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

In a field somewhere, there must be a car-boot sale where ­hard-up ­opera ­companies offer old ­productions for sale, no questions asked. It's ­presumably where Welsh National ­Opera picked up its "new" staging of Seraglio, directed by James ­Robinson, which since 1997 has done good ­service across the US, fetching up at six ­companies in all.

If WNO thought it was getting a ­bargain, a classic version of Mozart's hard-to-stage ­Singspiel, then someone saw it coming. The ­lavishly detailed designs (sets by Allen Moyer and ­costumes by Anna R Oliver) transplant the story of harem life to the Orient Express in the 1920s, though whether it's ­travelling from Paris to Istanbul or vice versa is never clear. It matters not, for the change of location adds nothing beyond a stylish veneer and a bundle of ­inconsistencies, while Robinson's ­direction provides no musical, social or political insights, just strenuously unfunny moments of slapstick.

With a dream cast, the show might get by. But with the lineup WNO has assembled, and routine conducting from Rinaldo ­Alessandrini, whose full-of-life approach to ­Monteverdi doesn't transfer successfully to early Mozart, it's a ­desperately slow evening. The best ­singing comes in the smaller roles, with Claire Ormshaw's feisty Blonde and Wynne Evans's OTT yet lively Pedrillo. Simon Thorpe's Pasha Selim is passable, too, but the other ­performances – Robin Tritschler's Belmonte, Petros Magoulas's Osmin and Lisette Oropesa's ­Konstanze – lack any visible ­dramatic dimension.

Repeated next Saturday (box office: 0870 040 2000). Then touring.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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