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Review: Rescue story, 20th century twist, Mozart's music make this Omaha opera 'outstanding'

Review: Rescue story, 20th century twist, Mozart's music make this Omaha opera 'outstanding'

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“And now, on with the opera. … Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor,” Groucho Marx once exclaimed as Otis P. Driftwood in the classic “A Night at the Opera,” immortalizing a sometimes fair description of opera theater.

Farce in an opera plot often relies on these kinds of high jinks. At the Orpheum this weekend, Opera Omaha is tackling just such an operatic comedy as it presents Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”

Director Alison Moritz’s Opera Omaha debut was a success. The action of the story is animated, fun and natural. It’s difficult to make a preposterous story with unlikely characters — two men rescuing their lovers from a harem — come to life in an engaging way, and Moritz’s take on the story is fluid and charming. The characters’ relationships flourished under her vision, which involves the traditional Turkish setting taking on a 20th century twist.

The music in this production is outstanding. Conducted by Gary Wedow in his Opera Omaha debut, the Omaha Symphony dazzled its way through a jubilant Mozart score at Wednesday night’s preview performance.

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Composed in the last decade of Mozart’s life, “Seraglio” possesses much of Mozart’s most mature orchestral prowess. The piece isn’t as consummate an example of Mozart’s theatrical imagination as some of his most mature works such as “Don Giovanni” or “The Marriage of Figaro,” but the score is delicate, sensitive and colorful. And the Omaha Symphony was victorious in its performance. Wedow compelled a dynamic and evocative presentation from the ensemble.

The opera’s singers were impeccable. The entire principal cast also is making its Opera Omaha debut in this production. At the preview performance, each of their voices was agile, expressive and delicious. Jack Swanson sang the tenor role of Belmonte with refreshing ease and lyricism. Michael Kuhn was comically delightful and possessed a vocal warmth befitting the charming Pedrillo.

Constanze was played by soprano Amanda Woodbury, and her gymnastic range and articulation as well as her rich timbre were a constant joy throughout the show. Erik Anstine, bass, was both commanding and comical as the larger-than-life Osmin.

Ashley Emmerson, also a soprano, plays Blonde, and she is a true treasure. She performed with a vibrant passion and playfulness. Her voice is flexible, powerful and full of invigorating flavor.

Set designer Steven Kemp developed some intriguing aspects for “Seraglio.” The revolving mechanism that divided the nightclub from the lounge and dressing rooms is imaginative and mechanically impressive.

The overall feel of the setting, however, is a bit obscure. The nightclub dance floor where the majority of the action takes place attempts to be reminiscent of 1930s-era Turkey. Unfortunately, the construction and detail result in something like the Emperor’s throne room in “Return of the Jedi,” if it had been redecorated by Ricky Ricardo. By the end of the first act the amalgam of set and costume pieces seem to land near, but not precisely in, any number of exotic locales, not the least distracting of which is a galaxy far, far away.

Opera Omaha and Mozart deliver a beautiful musical performance and more than a handful of fantastic Omaha debuts with “Seraglio.”

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