The Abduction From The Seraglio gets a culturally sensitive makeover

THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO by Mozart (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to.


THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO by Mozart (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to February 24. $22-$350. 416-363-8231. coc.ca. See listing. Rating: NNN

Mozarts 1782 work The Abduction From The Seraglio isnt often performed for several reasons. First, despite a couple of famous numbers, some featured in the movie Amadeus, its not one of the composers better operas. Second, its problematic plot involving the comic abduction from a Turkish harem of two European women by their boyfriends is uncomfortably Eurocentric and racist.

The Canadian Opera Companys new version, co-produced with Opera de Lyon, breathes fresh life into it with a prologue and additional dialogue penned by its director, the Lebanese-Canadian Wajdi Mouawad (Scorched/Incendies).

Mouawads introduction, set after the events of the singspiel (an opera with spoken dialogue), illustrates some of the European characters xenophobia as they engage in a game in which players take a sledgehammer to an oversized replica of a Turks head.

Former captives Konstanze (Jane Archibald) and her maid Blonde (Claire de Sevigne) are appalled, and so, with their partners Belmonte (Mauro Peter) and Pedrillo (Owen McCausland), they compare their stories about their time in the seraglio and the mens rescue of them.

This conceit provides a brilliant bit of contextualization that shows how even Westerners in the so-called Age of Enlightenment werent very enlightened about other cultures.

Unfortunately, Mouawad has the characters later selves weigh in on whats going on throughout the opera, killing the pace of a work that already has a stop-and-start quality. Only occasionally does this provide insight, as when the couples confront the idea of the womens virtue in the seraglio.

Thankfully, the performers help get us through the long night.

Archibalds dignity, poise and clear, agile soprano make her watchable throughout, and her act one closer one of the most treacherous of all arias is a dramatic and vocal highlight.

Peters sweet-toned tenor and amiable stage presence make him an ideal Mozart lead. Meanwhile, de Sevigne sparkles as Blonde, her scenes with her captor, Osmin (the mellifluous-voiced Goran Juric) rich with sensual and emotional chemistry.

And Raphael Weinstock, in the non-singing role of the Bassa Selim, has the gravity to carry some of the more difficult dramatic scenes.

Its a shame that the productions design is so distracting. The costumes by Emmanuelle Thomas make Selims followers resemble extras from The Walking Dead, while an orb (designed by Emmanuel Clolus) in the final act seems less 18th century Turkey than Star Trek episode.

And despite Mouawads additions, including a moving prayer scene, Mozarts lively score (sensitively conducted by Johannes Debus) is more cheerful and characterful than the sombre goings-on in this introverted, well-intentioned production.

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