Die Fledermaus: Bring your own fizz

Appreciation of the Wiener Staatsoper’s ritual New Year’s Fledermaus depends on your appreciation of Viennese rituals in general, of jokes about current Austrian politics in particular, of the simple joy of watching a tenor fall on his ass, and most of all on the amount of Champagne you have drunk. I missed the legendary special-guests New Year’s Eve showing (this year: Netrebko and Schrott) and went to the hangover special the next day instead. Once you get past the sociological aspects, this was a mostly first-rate cast threading their way through the greasy cogs of an ancient schticky Otto Schenk production with varying degrees of aplomb. Not bad, but magic only in a Viennese imagination.

Johann Strauss, Die Fledermaus. Wiener Staatsoper, 1/1/2011. Production by Otto Schenk, conducted by Patrick Lange with Markus Werba (Eisenstein), Camilla Nylund (Rosalinde), Angelika Kirchschlager (Prinz Orlofsky), Michael Schade (Alfred), Daniela Fally (Adele), Adrian Eröd (Falke), Helmuth Lohner (Frosch)

The sets and the tragic hair on the heads of the women suggest that this Otto Schenk production dates from the mid- to late-1970’s. It’s impressively lavish but rather cluttered and visually speaking strictly by-the-book realist (documented on this 1980 DVD with Gruberova, Popp, and Weikl). The turntable that took us to Prinz Orlowsky’s dining room got applauded, which tells you all you need to know.  The direction features quite a lot of silly choreography in the ensemble numbers. But this two-performance run did not seem to be well-rehearsed, and this kind of thing requires very good ensemble timing to pull off with flair. The dramatic beats were signposted and underlined by the cast as they all tried to get into position for the next moment, and interaction was minimal. It seemed more sketched than realized, and some moments, like the Unter Donner und Blitz ballet, were just clumsy. This is too bad, because most of the cast was excellent and I’m sure they could have had an outstanding Fledermaus in them, even in this dated production. When they were able to loosen up in their solo moments, they were universally better.

Fally, Werba, and Nylund

Unfortunately the cast had a weakness at its center, and that was Markus Werba’s Eisenstein. This seemed to be a case of a Leporello being cast as Don Giovanni: too young, not sufficiently bourgeois, and vocally not authoritative. He was completely overshadowed by Adrian Eröd’s arch and polished Dr. Falke, probably the best overall role portrait of the evening (does he sing Eisenstein? also, nice handstand). Almost as good was Daniela Fally’s Adele. Unlike her Sophie of last week, her singing was precise, light, and full of humor, and her acting again very good (spoken with what sounded to me like credible Viennese dialect). Angelika Kirchschlager’s Orlowsky was similarly accomplished, with some of the best singing of the evening and appropriately off-kilter acting in this unfortunately short role. Alfred Sramek was similarly amiable as Frank, particularly in the third act’s drunken extravaganza.

Camille Nylund has a large voice for Rosalinde, but navigated the acrobatics quite well, though the end of the Csardas was not her best moment. While a good actress, she did not have quite the touch for comedy as some of the rest of the cast, and emerged as the straight woman of the production. Michael Schade as Alfred was willingly the simple buffoon, with gleefully parodic singing, many pratfalls, and tenorial in-jokes and references (I believe these are attached to the production rather than him, but I counted La Bohème, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, and Fidelio, I’m probably forgetting a few).

Particularly in Vienna, Act 3 of Fledermaus is a drawn-out affair, with sparse music and plot development and lots of unrelated stand-up comedy (much of which is not explained in the English titles, by the way). Last night our Frosch was veteran actor Helmuth Lohner, and while I could understand almost all of what he was saying, my grasp of current Austrian politics was not sufficient to appreciate many of the jokes. While drunken physical comedy doesn’t depend on cultural knowledge, I still thought it was far too long, and I wanted to return to the plot.

I’m still sad they cut Murray the Comic Canadian in Act 2, though. (I realize that everyone does this, but come on, guys, he’s a comic Canadian! Michael Schade could do it, Alfred isn’t in Act 2!)

Up-and-coming stick-waver Patrick Lange boasts an impressive head of Conductor Hair but led unobtrusively, and while his account was well-judged and phrased, it lacked the headlong rush and brilliance this opera can reach. I appreciated that he was not a young conductor speed demon, but it could have been more exciting. The post-Neujahrskonzert orchestra sounded suitably sparkling in the overture and perfectly fine elsewhere (though it was more Donner and less Blitz in the ballet). Strings better than the occasionally bumpy winds, as usual.

Had things managed to gel a little better, this could have been an outstanding performance, but it was something less than the sum of its parts. Alas, such is the repertory norm.

This post concludes for now my survey of Otto Schenk at the Wiener Staatsoper; soon I will turn to productions of these same operas by some modern enfants terribles (some not so jeunes) for comparison. I am posting from Munich, where I just saw Claus Guth’s brain-teaser of a Luisa Miller at the Bayerische Staatsoper. It required more thought than all the Otto Schenk productions put together. I didn’t like everything about it but it felt like a giant relief to have something to chew on after all this literalism. Singing was also excellent. Turntable used a lot but not applauded once.  No Schenk comparison for this one but I didn’t want to skip it.  More on all of this in coming days.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Zerbinetta,

    Thank you for a very interesting blog! I have recently found it, and really enjoy reading it.

    Regarding your question about Mr. Eröd; I believe he has not yet sung Eisenstein, but he will in December at the New National Theatre Tokyo. A bit far away perhaps, but with luck he takes the role with him back home to Vienna.

    The OperaGhost