Thursday, October 05, 2006

Good Pasha, Bad Pasha

My article in the Chronicle last week about operas that, unlike Idomeneo, actually do have some anti-Islam sentiment to them — to wit, The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Italian Girl in Algiers — drew responses from a number of readers who felt I'd overlooked, or even minimized, the idealism and humanity that the Pasha Selim displays at the end of Abduction. The opera's happy ending comes off not through a clever or heroic rescue (as in Italiana), but because the Pasha magnanimously decides to let his captives go, with an ostentatious speech about his determination to be more moral than Belmonte's father. (Alex Ross cited the same passage in his response to the Berlin Idomeneo kerfuffle.)

Well, yeah, um, maybe. I thought about including the Pasha Selim while writing the article, but decided that he would only obscure a point that could be carried perfectly well by Osmin alone. And maybe I should've given him a nod just to reassure folks that I hadn't simply overlooked him.

But the truth is that I don't believe in the Pasha's virtue for a minute. Do you? This is the guy who coined the phrase "Martern von aller Arten" ("tortures of every kind") to describe what awaits Konstanze if she doesn't come across. This is the guy who, after hearing Konstanze sing "Ach ich liebte, war so glücklich," remarks that her tears and heartache get him hot. All of which is well and good, except that "safe, sane, and consensual" doesn't seem to be part of his vocabulary.

I understand that the heroes have to get out of Ottomania somehow, but the Pasha's final change of heart is transparently a deus ex machina to make that happen. I've never once seen a production in which that scene felt persuasive or integrated or like anything other than an excuse to finally bring down the damn curtain already.


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