JWG (jwg) wrote,

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Trip on the Orient Express

Last night, Robert and I went to see the Boston Lyric Opera performing Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. This 18th century comic opera has been restaged to take place on the Simplon Orient Express going from Istanbul to Paris in ~1920. I loved it; it was a great production with fine voices and acting. This staging which sounded pretty crazy when I read about it really worked well and enhanced the plot (except for a couple of details such as the presence of a ship that they were going to escape on).

The train has a dressing/bath compartment at the end of one car, the Pasha Selim's private car with its big drawing room in the middle, and a kitchen pantry compartment in the next car with vestibules between each of the cars for some of the action. Sliding doors between the compartments and doors from the smaller rooms onto the corridor added to the realism. On the Schubert stage in Boston, the train moves a bit occasionally to highlight one or more of the cars. The curtain was a huge map of the various routes of the Orient Express and some connecting lines. It had a lighted spot to show where the train was (Istanbul, Venice,Bucharest, Berne and Paris). During the opera, it was raised sufficiently to see the train but the map could always be seen.

We start at the Istanbul station with Osmin (low bass), Selim's private servant /gardener tending to some plants in the private compartment with Belmonte, the hero, (tenor of course) trying to gain access to the Pasha's train since his old girl friend, Konstanze (soprano), has been abducted by the Pasha to be one of his many wives. Unsuccessful he runs into Pedrillo (another kidnappee and current servant) who helps him change to the clothes of an architect and he will introduce him to Selim. This takes place in the dressing room comparment in the next car and it a later scene in the private car Selim accepts him. The train leaves (you can see some people on the platform behind the train) there is some smoke and steam and a bit of railroad noise. There is a conductor and assistant conductor who come through occasionally, usually meeting in the end of car compartments.

Various scenes with Konstanze (high soprano) and Selim, Blonde (here servent and fellow kidnappee) Pedrillo and Blonde take place in the fancy room.

There are several scenes in the pantry compartment. One is with Blonde, the maid (and girlfriend of Pedrillo) interacting with Osmin who is trying to seduce her while she is ironing some table cloths. In another later scene in this chamber, Pedrillo spikes some liquor and convinces the moslem Osmin to try it and and drunkenly goes to sleep. This sets the stage for the great escape scene where a ladder constructed from the table cloths is used by Belmonte to climb to the top of the car so as to rescue the others but it fails and they are caught by the awakened Osmin. Because the windows were open and the train was moving you could hear train noise. (This was the one plot element that didn't fit the train situation since it was about climbing a ladder into the castle and trying to get to a ship in the harbor. In this production it took place near Paris so I suppose the ship would be a Bateau Mouche).

There was an instance while the escapees were getting caught where Osmin pulled the emergency brake lever and the train came to a screeching stop with everyone falling on the floor. The vestibules at the car ends were used frequently. During the escape scene Pedrillo sings a song to two guards in one of these comparments while Belmonte is attempting to climb the ladder. There is a marvelous quartet/pair of duets with Pedrillo/Blonde and Belmonte/Konstanze and Pedrillo/Belmonte and Konstanze/Blonde in the adjacent compartments switching back and forth for the various sections.

The Opera ends with Belmonte explaining he really is the son of Lostado who was Selim's worst enemy. Selim decides to give the four of them their freedom instead of killing them because he wants to show that just because Lostado was evil, he doesn't have to be so. Osmin sings off that they should be beheaded, then hanged (how can one be hanged after being beheaded?), impaled, burned .... The train arrives at Paris and a chorus of people on the platform sing about how wonderful the Pasha of Selim is and the curtain comes down.

Opera and railroading at the same time! What a treat!

This train also ran in the Houston Grand Opera last year and is going to be at Opera Pacific in Costa Mesa, Opera Colorado, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Minnesota Opera.

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