Rhorer’s “Abduction” Lively But Flawed

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MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Norman Reinhardt, tenor (Belmonte); Mischa Shelomianski, bass (Osmin); David Portillo, tenor (Pedrillo); Jane Archibald, soprano (Konstanze); Rachele Gilmore, soprano (Blonde); Christoph Quest, speaker (Pasha Selim); Ensemble Aedes; Le Cercle de l’Harmonie; Jérémie Rhorer, conductor / Alpha 242 (live: Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, September 21, 2015)

So close to perfection, and yet so far from it. That is my final assessment of Jérémie Rhorer’s sparkling live performance of Mozart’s Entführung, issued here by Alpha on CD. Yes, he uses a corrupted, “straight-tone” orchestra, but he understands phrasing and dynamics and he makes it sing. He also has a very fine if slightly fluttery Konstanze in Jane Archibald, a wonderfully light but pliant Belmonte in Norman Reinhardt, and a first-rate Osmin (not an easy animal to find in captivity) in Mischa Shelomianski. His tempos are on the brisk side, occasionally pressed just a bit but of the kind I like in this opera. Everything is light and sparkling. So where’s the rub?

The problem is one Rachele Gilmore, a sexy-looking knockout who studied at both Indiana University and Boston, as Blonde. Apparently she learned nothing there on how to sing because she can scarcely control her vibrato which is all over the place, so much so that she can’t even sustain a steady tone longer than one beat. (I began to come up with catchphrases for her singing as the performance went on: “Longer than a beat, hear Gilmore bleat.”) It gets so bad that by the time she sings her duet with Osmin, you’re almost hoping that he dumps a wicker basket over her head just to shut her up.

Now, I know that Blonde is not the central soprano role in Abduction, but considering that there must be at least 300 soubrettes our there who could sing the role better than this, what were they thinking in hiring Gilmore? Was her agent that powerful? It’s a shame because she really does ruin this recording, which is otherwise a jewel from start to finish. In the fiedishly difficult “Martern aller arten,” Archibald proves that she is not only up to the challenges of the score itself, including a wonderful trill, but also that she can sing those alternate cadenzas that are not entirely necessary but add some fun to the proceedings. Reinhardt’s voice put me in mind of another tenor; for a while I couldn’t think of who, then it clicked in my head that he sounds a bit like thelate Anton Dermota. Shelomianski is able to plunge the depths that Osmin’s music demands while maintaining his mock-gruff persona throughout (although I felt that “O wie will ich triumphuren” was just a shade too manic).

After having listened to a good two dozen recordings of this opera, ranging from 1951 to the present, and being disappointed by most of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that Abduction is really one of Mozart’s hardest operas to cast well. Although the tempos are a bit on the measured side, the only one that really satisfies me from start to finish is the 1980 Glyndebourne performance, issued on Arthaus Musik DVD 102310, with Valerie Masterson as Konstanze, Lillian Watson as Blonde, Ryland Davies as Belmonte, James Hoback as Pedrillo and Willard White as Osmin, conducted by Gustav Kuhn. It’s also a wonderful and beautiful stage production, too, with none of the neurosis or garbage of modern-day “Regietheater.” None of the other versions I’ve heard satisfy me; either one of the main singers is defective or the conducting is too slow and stodgy, or the performance just doesn’t catch fire.

But within his element and what he was trying to do, I have to give Rohrer a lot of credit. He almost pulled this off. Had he or the Champs-Elysées management been more careful in casting the role of Blonde, it just might have been my favorite version, but as it stands I can only recommend it for the conductor’s conception and most, but not all, of the singing.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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