Taking off into a new sky7/1/2015
“The Abduction from the Seraglio,” at Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO), opened its third act under moonlight. The noble Belmonte lurks in the dark, intending to free his beloved Konstanze from the Pasha’s seraglio: his harem. Mozart’s hero wears a neon-purple frockcoat, and this glows mystically under a sky full of stars. The moment is another triumph for the set designers and technical staff, bringing Disney to Mozart — especially since one of the constellations carries a label: “Ursus Major.”
A nametag in the night sky suits “Abduction.” At 26, the composer was still something of a kid when he brought his first opera to the Vienna stage in 1782. The story feels like playtime, never more so than at the start of Act III, as Belmonte and his servant Perdillo botch their abduction laughably. The happy ending that ensues is no thanks to them. Rather, the Pasha does the right thing. When it comes to both Konstanze and her maidservant Blonde (two syllables, in German opera), the Turk proves a perfect gentleman, despite the gold chain running from earlobe to nose-ring.
The Pasha, in other words, has a look as otherworldly as Belmonte in purple or Konstanze in pink. Yet this player, David Alan Moore, never gets to sing. Later this season, Moore will have a larger role in “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” but here he confines himself to speaking in English (customary nowadays, for “Abduction”), while all around him people keep breaking into arias in the original German. Mozart almost seems to be poking fun at his story and cares more about the music.
The score asserts its excitement immediately, in the zip of the overture. Then, however, Benjamin Bliss, playing Belmonte, descends through the audience and bursts into song. With that, the auditorium itself takes off into a new sky.
Granted, we’ve come to expect top-flight performances in Indianola. Indeed, in “Abduction,” the Pasha’s guard Osmin is played by a former DMMO apprentice artist, Matt Boehler. Boehler gets a lot of lung into his bloodthirsty silliness, but the tenor and soprano leads, Bliss and Amanda Woodbury, stand out nonetheless. They understand Mozart’s friskiness, his way of trying to top each number with the next. A breathtaking case in point comes during the second act when Konstanze delivers first a mournful and defeated aria, then one that asserts her defiance and strength. In the meantime, she ranges from the highest parts of her register to the lowest.
Not surprisingly, it was Woodbury who brought the crowd to its feet for her final bow. To be sure, everyone involved deserved an ovation — but I must add, finally, that the very next night, a new cast and crew came out and pulled off something equally extraordinary. What’s more, they did this with a wildly different show, Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West.” Des Moines Metro Opera continues to up its game.
Overheard in the Lobby: Iowa Shakespeare Festival is moving to the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion on Terrace Hill starting July 8. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.