, June 2009
The high-definition home-opera experience takes on a whole new dimension when you can count the nose hairs of the male singers. That sums up the in-your-face quality that director Peter Sellars brings to his intensely 21st-century reimagining of Mozart’s incomplete early opera Zaïde—begun in early 1779.
Captured at the 60th Aix-en-Provence Festival last summer, this Turkish-prison story gets a gritty, contemporary feel, meant to remind us of the millions of people still enslaved physically or psychologically around the world.
The update includes overture and scene-change music (Mozart didn’t write any) borrowed from Thamos, King of the Egyptians, as well as an improvisation on the oud and a folk chorus (the Ibn Zaïdoun singers).
The music is gorgeously performed under Louis Langrée and the cast is good. Although this is a fascinating staging, I found the camera’s endless cuts and close-ups distracting at first, and downright tiresome by the end of the first act. It also quickly becomes clear that, even with a clever director’s imaginative padding, you can’t hide the fact that Zaïde was an abandoned work-in-progress.