Osmin, the bad guy in Mozart's “Abduction from the Seraglio,” is a great character. Kevin Thompson, a towering bass on his way to Europe's top opera houses, gave a landmark performance in the role in the opening weekend of West Bay Opera's production of the work.
The 1782 comic opera takes place in the court of a Turkish ruler who lusts after a captive Spanish noblewoman. The pasha's chief bodyguard, security enforcer and all-around meany is Osmin, sung by a bass.
As Thompson entered Palo Alto's Lucy Stern Theatre through the audience on Sunday afternoon, his voice shook the rafters and his height and gravitas took patrons aback. Every time Thompson appeared – Osmin has many juicy arias and duets – it was big-time opera.
Thompson, a 2010 Merola Opera Program alumnus, is singing all over the world, and his West Bay Opera debut illustrates why. Soprano Nikki Einfeld, another distinguished Merola graduate (2003), sang the noblewoman role, Konstanze, earning “brava!” from the audience for her performance of the fiendishly difficult aria, “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of every kind”).
Michael Desnoyers (Belmonte), Tapan Bhat (Pedrillo) and, in a company debut, Chelsea Hollow (Blonde), rounded out the excellent cast.
Devoted General Director José Luis Moscovich conducted the bouncy, percussive score with panache and rock-solid consistency. After casting the production, the Argentine, Spanish-speaking native then trained the performers on the German text, which they sang and spoke masterfully.
Stage director Eugene Brancoveanu's work wonderfully exemplifies the golden mean between honoring tradition and being innovative. Much of the story takes place in a harem, and most productions put the women in static poses. But Brancoveanu's harem is active and alive; and the Pasha is busy, putting paint on the women’s bodies.
As a double in-joke, the well-known baritone assigned himself the non-singing role of the Pasha (who takes harem liberties invented by the director). It served this lively, hilarious production well.
Costumes by Callie Floor (especially for Konstanze) are eye-catching and authentic, with the possible exception of the small chorus' somewhat Egyptian-looking headgear. Directed by Bruce Olstad, the choristers balanced their super-tall hats well and sang their hearts out.
Some cuts to the opera – Tony Burke decreased the number of instruments and some text was abbreviated – had a positive effect.
Abduction from the Seraglio
Presented by West Bay Opera
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 21, 2 p.m. Feb. 22
Tickets: $40 to $75
Contact: (650) 424-9999, www.westbayopera.org