McVicar knows his audience well, in this stylish bonbon of a production. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
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David McVicar’s new production of Mozart’s first successful opera is a vision innocent of its own Orientalism

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, or The Abduction from the Seraglio, hits the spot when staged at Glyndebourne.

The curtain rising on David McVicar’s new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail reveals a set that could have been designed by Lord Frederic Leighton. This is the idealised exotic East as viewed through Western eyes: shady loggias, the sea glimpsed distantly through intricate latticework screens, formal gardens filled with brightly-clothed children.

It’s a vision innocent of its own Orientalism, and one that echoes the gleeful exoticism of Mozart’s youthful score, with its jangling percussion and primary-coloured wind and brass. There’s a darker, more cynical take to be had on this tricky opera, heavy with moral absolutes, but on a summer evening in Glyndebourne’s own glorious gardens, this is the version that hits the spot.

McVicar knows his audience well, and this stylish bonbon of a production – beautifully designed by Vicki Mortimer and lit by Paule Constable – taps into the same visual vein that so delighted in his now-classic Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare. Moving screens and panels form and reform in endless permutations, keeping a long evening of music dramatically fluid and lithe, fresh with new spaces to enjoy and new views to explore in Pasha Selim’s gorgeous summer residence.

The acres of dialogue so often cut from this singspiel are reinstated, changing the pace of the piece for the better. Entführung is often criticised for lacking the psychological depth of the composer’s later works, and here music that simply wasn’t intended to propel drama is allowed simply to illustrate and amplify, generating some delicious comic set-pieces as well as some moments of emotive stillness. McVicar is aided by a strong ensemble cast, delivering the slightly stilted dialogue with as much energetic conviction as the arias.

Supplying the necessary patrician tragedy and gravitas are Edgaras Montvidas (Belmonte) and Sally Matthews (Konstanze) – young lovers with an agile line in coloratura. Konstanze is a good role for Matthews, giving full scope to her emotional intensity, and showcasing the strong points of her technique while forgiving some of its odder quirks. Memories of the darkened vowels and slightly swallowed delivery we so often hear in the concert hall are banished by a ferociously poised “Martern alle artern”. Montvidas cuts a heroic figure, playing nicely off Breden Gunnell’s Pedrillo in the comic sections, while bringing us back to an altogether more lyrical sincerity with his arias.

While Gunnell gives hints of real beauty in his decoy Moorish song, his is a Pedrillo played skilfully for laughs, sung with character to the fore. He’s almost outdone for presence, however, by Mari Eriksmoen’s fiery Blonde – the outspoken Englishwoman we truly believe is subjugated by no man. Vocally all glittering brilliance and precision in this, her Glyndebourne debut, it’s dramatically that she really comes into her own, sparring vividly with Tobias Kehrer’s Osmin, and delivering an unforgettable lesson in gender equality.

If there’s a star here, though, it’s unquestionably Kehrer – another debut artist, and a basso profondo whose beast of a voice and comic instincts make for a potent pairing and an unusually human villain. His Act I spat with Pedrillo is a highlight, his expressivity and tonal variety set against a charming and ingenious horticultural conceit from McVicar. Robin Ticciati and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment romp their way through this unusual score, and it’s particularly lovely to hear the orchestra’s wind and brass sections so extensively in this unusually colourful and texturally varied music.

Michael Grandage’s 2012 Figaro for Glyndebourne had the music on its side but lacked charm, while the festival’s 2014 Finta Giardiniera looked stylish but couldn’t muster enough dramatic friction with this early score. In David McVicar’s Entführung, Glyndebourne finally have a five-star Mozart – a production whose visuals are every bit the equal of its aural pleasures. This is a show we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future seasons.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was on at Glyndebourne, Saturday 13 June, 2015

 

Photo: NRK
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Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“No!”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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