Dayton Opera builds The Abduction from the Seraglio at the Schuster
By Eric Street
Photo: Theodore Chasseriau’s ‘Moorish Woman Leaving the Bath in Seraglio,’ the Turkish setting of Dayton Opera’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, coming Feb. 17 and 19
Mark your calendar for Friday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 19 when Dayton Opera unveils its first-ever production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. The newcomer to the Schuster Center features a newly designed set by Pam Lavarnway, theater professor at Wright State University. Tristan Cupp, artistic director for Zoot Theatre, oversees the construction of her exotic Turkish palace and garden.
Stage director Kathleen Clawson is enthusiastic about her latest challenge.
“There are several things that are new and unique to Dayton Opera’s production,” Clawson says. “It has been wonderful collaborating with Pam Lavarnway, the scenic designer, to create a new set for this production. It is imaginative and vibrant! I know local audiences will be thrilled with what they see.”
Like Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Abduction is a singspiel, which includes spoken dialogue, along with Mozart’s incredible music. Andrea Fellows Walters, of the Santa Fe Opera, was commissioned by Tom Bankston to write new English dialogue, after the success of her script for Dayton’s Magic Flute. Her words, combined with this beautiful new set, make this an entirely new Abduction.
Bankston, as always, has assembled a wonderful cast.
“As a director,” he adds, “I love helping singers delve into new roles and also help veterans find new things. For me, that is the great joy about directing these timeless pieces. One will never run out of discoveries in a masterpiece!”
At the opera
Mozart first conquered Vienna with his comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, which features rollicking Turkish-flavored music, virtuosic solo singing, stupendous duets and ensembles, and the exotic setting of a Turkish harem. A freewheeling tale of two women purchased from pirates by the Pasha Selim and their eventual rescue by their lovers, the work’s style is strongly similar to that of The Magic Flute, with even more death-defying acrobatic singing required by all five of its principal singing roles.
Constanze defies all attempts at seduction by the Pasha and sings one of the most difficult coloratura arias of the soprano repertoire, “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of All Kinds”), in resisting his offer to take her into his harem. Blonde, her pert English maid, likewise rejects Osmin, whose virtuosic runs and low notes mark the deep end of Mozart’s operatic output.
Aided by their lovers, Belmonte and his servant Pedrillo, the women nearly escape, helped by two ladders and spiked wine. They’re captured nevertheless. Fortunately, Pasha Selim is magnanimous, and all concludes in jubilant high spirits as the lovers praise their benefactor and prepare to set sail. It’s a sparkling trip you’ll be glad you made.
Amanda Woodbury, fresh from her Metropolitan Opera run as Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, makes her Dayton Opera debut as the high-flying soprano, Constanze. Her 2015 Constanze with the Des Moines Metro Opera earned enthusiastic praise from the Des Moines Register, “Her soprano is strong and elastic, precisely suited for the back-to-back arias that have as many punishing runs as anything Mozart wrote.”
Tenor Tyler Nelson makes his Dayton Opera debut as Belmonte.
“[Nelson’s] vocal agility is matched by an astounding and hysterically funny physical inventiveness,” DCTheaterscene.com proclaims. Opera News agrees, stating that Nelson “sang up a storm!”
Robert Norman returns as Pedrillo, Blonde’s fiancé and mastermind of the escape plan. The San Francisco Chronicle notes, “Tenor Robert Norman….. brought nimble vocal clarity to the part.”
Dayton Opera artist-in-residence Chelsea Friedlander sings Blonde, Constanze’s maid. She debuted this December as Messiah soprano soloist with the Dayton Philharmonic.
Bass-baritone Jeremy Galyon returns to sing Osmin. He debuted here in 2014 as Sarastro in The Magic Flute. San Francisco Classical Voice said Galyon’s “portrayal of Osmin, the overseer of the harem, was at once stern, gruff, dim, and wickedly funny. His voice is full, resonant, and clear from top to bottom, without a hint of the muddiness that can sometimes plague basses. He presented finely crafted and musically sensitive arias, and stole every scene in which he appeared!”
Rounding out this colorful cast is Jamie Cordes, actor and singer with The Human Race Theatre Company. Cordes plays Pasha Selim, ruler of the exotic Turkish harem.
Dayton Opera welcomes Stage Director Clawson for a 10th time to her “home away from home” to direct this Mozart masterpiece. Clawson has soloed with Dayton Philharmonic and directed Dayton Opera productions since 2009, including The Elixir of Love, La Traviata, Faust, Fidelio, La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor, Aida, The Magic Flute, and Otello. Clawson heads musical theatre at the University of New Mexico. She is assistant director of the Apprentice Program for Singers at Santa Fe Opera.
Leading the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is guest conductor Glenn Lewis in his inaugural visit to Dayton Opera. Lewis worked in the opera houses of Cologne and Düsseldorf, Germany, before becoming director of music with Pittsburgh Opera. His credits include the Washington National Opera, the Kennedy Center, Vancouver Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera. He is on staff at Santa Fe Opera.
Dayton Philharmonic presents The Abduction from the Seraglio Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., Feb. 17 and Feb. 19. Tickets range from $28–94. Senior, student, and military discounts are available. For tickets or more information, please call Ticket Center Stage at 937.228.3630 or visit DaytonPerformingArts.org.