POP out of this world with Mozart’s ‘Abduction’

 by Carol Winston, guest reviewer

Pacific Opera Project’s production of Mozart’s The Abduction From the Seraglio opened this week, and was performed at the historic El Portal Theater in North Hollywood to a sold-out audience on Saturday night. The 360-seat house was a terrific venue for the opera, the small Art Deco space creating an intimate feel and making it easy to understand the singers (although supertitles were also provided).

Abduction, a Singspiel, is a little like a sitcom with fantastic music, and lends itself to a bit of tinkering. Mozart’s original premiered in 1782, reflecting Europe’s keen interest in the Ottoman Empire at the time, so it seems appropriate that it now plays to interest in the contemporary space opera. This production uses an inventive new English libretto by POP founder Josh Shaw, with additional lyrics by Kelsey Shaw.  The Star Trek take on the opera worked surprisingly well, as Shaw’s direction melded elements of both sources effectively and with lightheartedness.

Shawnette Sulker as Lt. Constanza (based on Lt. Uhura) tackled her two incredibly difficult soprano arias successfully.  Her interpretation of Lt. Constanza/Uhura was dead-on.  Her poise, unwavering loyalty and reserve made her character believable, a perfect foil for the over-the-top acting of her beloved, Captain James T. Belmonte (a.k.a. Captain Kirk).

Brian Cheney (Captain Kirk) Photo: Martha Benedict
Brian Cheney (Belmonte/Kirk) Photo: Martha Benedict

Brian Cheney, as Belmonte, sang with an even, warm tenor with incredible breath control.  He took Captain Kirk’s notorious over-acting to new levels, frequently breaking the fourth wall, which the audience responded to with glee.

One of the highlights was listening to Claire Averill as Blondie.  Her voice has beautiful sparkle and warmth, and her coloratura and high E’s were excellent.  An outstanding comedienne, her scenes with Mr. Pedrillo and Osmin were particularly funny.

Claire Averill (Blondie), and Robert Norman (Mr. Spock). Photo: Martha Benedict
Claire Averill (Blondie), and Robert Norman (Pedrillo/Spock). Photo: Martha Benedict

A longtime company member, Phil Meyer was excellent as always.  He is terrific onstage and completely embodied the role of Osmin, becoming both menacing and amusing, and singing with a rich bass voice and excellent diction. Gregg Lawrence brought a rich speaking voice and good acting chops to the speaking role of Chancellor Belim. But Robert Norman, as Mr. Pedrillo (Mr. Spock), was my favorite characterization.  He was totally committed to being the Vulcan, and did not waver, offering a performance that was incredibly funny and effective.

Although the chorus did not have much to sing, they sounded excellent, brought visual excitement to the stage and were a colorful addition, dressed exotically and depicting various alien origins. The lively Klingon supernumeraries were true spear carriers, keeping the scenes full of life and danger.

Abduction from the Seraglio. Photo: Martha Benedict
Abduction from the Seraglio. Photo: Martha Benedict

The orchestra was ably conducted by music director and POP co-founder Stephen Karr, bright and tuneful but not so loud as to cover the singers.  In Act 1, the brass and winds tended to overpower the strings a bit, but this was remedied in Act 2. I loved their interpolation of the Star Trek theme during the overture, as it seamlessly segued from the 24th century to the 18th century.

The colorful, fun costumes were designed by Maggie Green.  The cheesy sets were a perfect reminder of some of the sets from the TV series. And a dedication to Leonard Nimoy, in light of his recent passing, was touching. This new production of The Abduction From the Seraglio is fine music-making and great entertainment for the opera novice, experienced opera goer and Star Trek fan alike. POP continues to bring relevance and artistry to their productions.


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