Mozart and the Orient Express: Using Comedy to Transcend Cultural Differences

The Abduction from the Seraglio (2017); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

The Abduction from the Seraglio (2017); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

LA Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio is not a traditional staging of the Mozart treasure. Historically, the 18th-century comedic opera which follows the hero Belmonte as he tries to rescue his love Konstanze from the seraglio (“harem”) of Pasha Selim is set in the Pasha’s grand palace. Our staging, envisioned by director James Robinson, updates the story to the 1920s and sets the action entirely aboard the famed Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Paris.

The 1920s was a decade of transition—socially, politically and culturally. The world was still reeling from the Great War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Grand world changes lend themselves well to the east-meets-west nature of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. This opera explores the comedy, not the tragedy, that arises when people from different cultures collide.

Robinson’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio explores cultural differences through comedy by setting the opera entirely on a moving train. In the tight “moving” quarters, hilarity ensues in the form of screwball comedy – such as Bringing Up Baby (where the physical comedy is just as present as quick, witty banter) or Twentieth Century (also set on a train). When the characters try to escape from one another, they can only move between the two private cars. During one moment, the dogmatic (yet, still lovable) Osmin chases his love interest Blonde from one car to the next, while she skirts his advances and sings an aria about being a modern woman.

“What does it mean to have a private car on the Orient Express? What happens when you’re stuck together on a train with people who hold different beliefs? The train became a giant metaphor, the movement suggesting transition and a meeting of cultures,” says Robinson.

That does not mean that all the characters from the east are traditionalists, while all the characters from the west are modern – far from it.

“The Pasha is very cosmopolitan,” explains Robinson. In this production, the Pasha tries to persuade Konstanze to fall in love with him with what he calls “little tortures” – which aren’t really tortures at all, rather expensive perfumes and dresses. Recognizing her heart is someone else’s, he tries to woo her with his wealth, but Konstanze holds firm.

In addition, it’s ultimately the Pasha’s great act of benevolence and understanding that steals the show. (But, we won’t give away any more than that.)

For more information about and to purchase tickets to The Abduction from the Seraglio, click here.

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