For the first decades of its existence, Ravinia was the summer opera capital of the United States and concert opera was a significant element of the 22-year music directorship of James Levine, who was also music director of the Metropolitan Opera. That tradition stopped under Christoph Eschenbach but has continued on under James Conlon, who is also music director of the Los Angeles Opera and the Cincinnati May Festival, where this semi-staged version of Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” originated in 2006 conceived around Michael York narrating the spoken portions with a script by Marie Therese Squerciati that streamlines much of the action as well as wryly interpolates the proceedings for a modern audience with an Anglo sensibility that perfectly suits York’s narration. But make no mistake: it is the singing and the music that are the clear stars of this production, from Morris Robinson’s velvet-smooth deep bass and terrifying yet comical portrayal of the sadistic Osmin to Hanan Alattar’s stunning ease through the soprano stratosphere as Konstanze to James Conlon’s lively tempos and brilliant shaping of a chamber ensemble made up of non-vacationing Chicago Symphony members. What a rare treat it is to hear a Mozart opera in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, with its 800-plus seats, close to the size of the theaters that Mozart had in mind when he wrote these works rather than the too large Harris Theater (Chicago Opera Theater) or the cavernous Civic Opera House (Lyric Opera) where nuance and subtlety are lost. The experience is nothing short of revelatory and long may this glorious tradition continue. But next time around, please, Ravinia, keep the standards consistent and hire a professional chorus, preferably members of the CSO’s own unparalleled ensemble rather than a volunteer chorus. For this work a chorus is only heard twice, but they are crucial and climactic moments that mar what precedes them, kind of like baking a cake from scratch and using canned frosting to top it off. (Dennis Polkow)
Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” plays through August 16 at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, Lake-Cook at Green Bay Rds., Highland Park, (847)266-5100.