During this year's Bellingham Festival of Music, an exciting concept in the concert performance of opera will take place - a semi-staged version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 1782 opera, "The Abduction from the Seraglio" (Die Entführung aus dem Serail).
Concert versions of opera have been a staple of musical organizations, including the Bellingham Festival of Music, for many years. Recently, however, the idea of incorporating more movement and some action on stage to visually engage the audience has become more popular.
Opera is, after all, theater with music. With semi-staging, the audience and the performers have a more complete opera experience.
Mozart's "Abduction" is a singspiel, meaning that it has arias (songs) and spoken dialogue, much like a Broadway musical. In the festival's production, conducted by Whitney Reader and directed by Jeff Lynch, the dialogue will be in English while the arias will be sung in the original German.
The orchestra will be on stage along with the singers and a small chorus representing Janissaries, or guards of the Sultan's harem.
Coming to Bellingham to perform will be Lisette Oropesa, who recently performed in Verdi's "Falstaff" and Massenet's "Werther" with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and Joanna Mongiardo, an internationally acclaimed singer who recently performed with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein as Blonde, the role she will play here in Bellingham.
The story of the opera involves the attempted "abduction" of two captured women from a Turkish harem. The abduction fails after a number of comic incidents and missteps.
Mozart wrote this opera when he was 25 years old and about to get married. His maturity as an opera composer is evident throughout the opera in the music and the theatricality of the action - an early example of his genius before "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni," "Cosí fan tutte" and his greatest singspiel, "The Magic Flute."
The singers will be in formal attire, contrasting with the earthy humor of the opera.
There are other notable features in this production. Two roles are spoken, not sung: Pasha Selim and Klaas, a boatman. Selim will be "performed" by the conductor Whitney Reader; local resident Brian Griffin has agreed to do a cameo appearance as Klaas.
But why semi-staged? Imagine six singers in elegant dress sitting in chairs and standing only when they have an aria or when they speak to one another. That is what a traditional concert version of the opera would be like. Of course, there could be a narration to explain the plot, but the dialogue and singing in Mozart's opera are closely related and intertwined.
Having the singers move and interact with one another not only makes the dialog real and believable, it accomplishes one more thing: The audience is more engaged with the music and the action, and can better experience the theater of Mozart's work.
The opera is an opportunity to see some of the finest singing actors on stage today in a unique performance of some of Mozart's most charming and engaging music.
Mozart's 1782 opera, "The Abduction from the Seraglio" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 12, at the Performing Arts Center Main Stage at Western Washington University. Get tickets via bellinghamfestival.org, from the WWU box office or by calling 360-650-6146.
Robert Lynch is chairman of the board of directors of the Bellingham Festival of Music.