“The Abduction From the Seraglio” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center at 2 p.m. April 30
It’s the 1920s. The action takes place on the Orient Express, en route to Paris from Istanbul.
The wealthy Pasha Selim purchases three Europeans captured by pirates in the Mediterranean: Konstanze, a Spanish noblewoman; Blonde (pronounced “Blondie”), her maidservant; and Pedrillo, the valet of Konstanze’s fiancé, Belmonte. Osmin is overseer of the harem.
Selim is in love with Konstanze, but has not forced himself upon her. Enter Belmonte, Konstanze’s true love. He and Pedrillo worm their way into Selim’s car and plan to abduct the three prisoners. Osmin is put to sleep with strong drink — the coast is now clear.
But Selim is on guard and confronts the three would-be escapists. He, Selim, realizes that Belmonte is the son of an old enemy, and rather than imitate the bad behavior of his old enemy, he opts for mercy and frees the captives. Love cannot be won by force, the Pasha proclaims, and the huge crowd awaiting them in Paris chants praise to Pasha Selim.
Like most operas, it’s a goofy story, but Mozart’s music and the excellent acting and singing of the performers score a big hit. Lawrence Brownlee as Belmonte was a commanding presence, and Ryan Green as Osmin was perfect. Chris Bozeka was a convincing Pedrillo, and Christopher Purves was an amusing Pasha.
But the biggest praise goes to the two sopranos, Albina Shagimuratova as Konstanze and Uliana Alexyuk as Blonde. One could not take one’s eyes off them when they sang, and both had plenty of opportunities to show their stuff and wow the audience. Every Houston Grand Opera presentation is professionally done and impressive, but when these two ladies sang one’s eyes sprang open, one sat forward in one’s seat to get closer to them, and one’s idea of what a soprano voice can do was altered and improved.
The orchestra performed very creditably under the direction of Thomas Rösner, despite occasional silent moments and difficult recommencing cues. Praise goes to the director, James Robinson and particularly to Allen Moyer, the set designer. Reproduced on the stage was 1 1/2 railroad cars in which the action took place. The illusion of motion was supplied by the outdoors flashing past the windows.
Everyone was given a copy of HGO’s magazine, Opera Cues. On the cover was a silhouette of Istanbul’s “Blue Mosque,” along with a train belching smoke. It was a perfect and impressive symbol.
Additional performances are Saturday, Wednesday and May 12. The music, singing, acting, costumes and staging are worth your attention.