Curtis Sullivan (centre) and dancers strike period poses in Opera Atelier’s colourful costumes.
THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO by Mozart, directed by Marshall Pynkoski (Opera Atelier). At the Elgin (189 Yonge). To November 15. $20-$135. 416-872-5555. Rating: NNN
Comic portraits of evil, mustachioed Turks who imprison Western women in their harems are understandably not very popular today, but that hasn't stopped Opera Atelier from mounting Mozart's colourful and amusing early opera, The Abduction From The Seraglio.
Director Marshall Pynkoski lessens the work's inherent racism by emphasizing its commedia dell'arte elements, cleverly woven in by Margaret Lamb's finely detailed costumes. These characters, Pynkoski's implying, are stock figures, given some depth by Mozart's transcendent music.
The caper plot concerns nobleman Belmonte's (Frédéric Antoun) attempts to rescue his love, Konstanze (Amanda Pabyan), her maid, Blondie (Carla Huhtanen), and Blondie's lover, Pedrillo (Lawrence Wiliford), from the Pasha Selim (Curtis Sullivan). Guarding the harem is the burly Osmin (Gustav Andreassen).
Pynkoski sets up the silly plot with a very funny pantomime that takes place during the familiar overture, and designer Gerard Gauci's ornate panels depicting gardens and courtly elegance help create an appropriate fairy-tale-like ambience.
David Fallis gets rich, dramatic playing from the Tafelmusic Orchestra and Chamber Choir, while Jeanette Lajeunesse-Zingg's choreography adds texture to the work, particularly in a campy fetishistic number about torture where the dancers wield items you might find at Northbound Leather.
The performances are uneven. Antoun and Pabyan are stronger singers than actors - the arias are in German, the dialogue a very colloquial English - but both Wiliford and especially the minx-like Huhtanen seem completely at ease onstage. Andreassen makes the most of one of the toughest roles in the bass repertoire.
This isn't always first-rate Mozart, but there are bits of genius sprinkled throughout. And despite the trivial nature of the plot, the ending's message about forgiveness and acceptance feels positively uplifting to a contemporary audience.