Die Fledermaus in Stuttgart: Old Champagne in new bottles

Time for the laced-up bourgeoisie to take another field trip into the wild forest of their collective id. Like any self-respecting piece of provocation, Philipp Stölzl’s Staatsoper Stuttgart Fledermaus is equipped with an orgy in Act 2 and a set that turns upside down, as well as that obligatory dark forest. But under the fancy dress–or rather undress–there’s a lot of traditional Fledermaus schtick struggling to get out. The concept might be superficial and none too original, but it’s visually nifty and that traditional Fledermaus is not bad at all.

Strauß, Die Fledermaus, version adapted by Philipp Stölzl and Xaver Zuber. Staatsoper Stuttgart, 1/8/2011. Production by Philipp Stölzl with sets by Stölzl and Conrad Reinhard, costumes by Ursula Kudra, lights by Volker von Schwanenflügel, choreography by Mara Kurotschka. Conducted by Timo Handschuh with Paul Armin Edelmann (Eisenstein), Adriane Queiroz (Rosalinde), Franziska Gottwald (Orlofsky), Robin Johannsen (Adele), César Gutiérrez (Alfred), Miljenko Turk (Falke) Georg Reiter (Frosch).

Stölzl’s production features a frame narrative in spoken dialogue. Appearing downstage is the aforementioned wild forest, realm of primal stuff and of Prinz Orlofsky, an androgynous raver in blond pigtails, tiny Lady Gaga-esque top hat, and silver tutu. At the beginning of the show, Orlofsky is hanging with sidekick Frosch, an old (judging by accent) Austrian man in Lederhosen. Frosch is the spirit of folk humor, Orlofsky of modern debauchery, and together they watch some tired strippers cavort. But with such hard partying comes ennui. “When was the last time I laughed?” Orlowsky asks. Of course the only solution is to again tell the story of the Fledermaus.

Behind the forest is a white box representing a 19th-century room, where Act 1 begins. Rosalinde is already having an affair with Alfred, but other than that it is an astonishingly by-the-book staging, in pale, mostly monochromic period dress. It even shows some amazing similarities in blocking with Otto Schenk’s Wiener Staatsoper production (the dancing happens in exactly the same places, and I suppose there is no other option but for Eisenstein and Falke to link arms and skip around in circles during the “La la la la” coda of their duet).

In Act 2, the (here masked) ball provides a space for the characters to let out their repressed inner urges, which means more cavorting with strippers (Ida and her ballet colleagues). The upstage room first appears upside down, the chandelier emerging from the floor and the chairs stuck to the ceiling. Then, during Rosalinde and Eisenstein’s duet, it begins to literally spin around to right itself, then back to upside down, slowly but constantly, giving space for a unusual Unter Donner und Blitz by the strippers (probably more accurately called burlesque dancers?). Whatever could this upside down world mean? It’s not like the servants are the masters and the masters are the servants or anything! Or like it is spinning through a duet about a clock! Or like there are waltzes in this work! But despite the heavy-handedness, it’s a pretty nifty visual and technical trick.

In Act 3, the room is skewed on its side, and the furniture has submitted to gravity, piling up in fragments on the bottom. Frosch turns into a Falstaffian drunken philosopher, the chiming-at-midnight grandfather clock has spilled into the forest, and it is Alfred and Eisenstein’s cell (imprisoned in a symbol of bourgeois regularity, natch). Yes, this was my second non-literal prison in an opera staging in a week. Here, prison is having to deal with the consequences of your id in the next morning’s daylight, though the stakes don’t seem to be too dire. Blame the champagne.

While a decent concept, with good images, it remains generalized and superficial, more the product of someone who has read some Freud and Schnitzler and maybe seen Eyes Wide Shut a few times than put in any real thought about Fledermaus–or at least about Fledermaus as a text rather than as a symbol. Something similar but far more potent and brutal was done by Hans Neuenfels in his 2001 Salzburg Festival production (which is available on DVD).  Except Orlofsky, Stölzl’s characters don’t acquire much in the way of individual profiles. But while it isn’t revelatory, the direction is sharp, the interaction between the characters engaging, and the balance between dark comedy and parody rather good. The evening passed quickly and entertainingly, and while it might be Schenk-ish with a facelift and a frame narrative, it works.

Musical values were good. Unfortunately, the set seemed to be doing weird acoustic things (I’m not sure, because this was my first time in this theater), and all the singing and talking from the upstage center room sounded echo-ey and unclear. It also must have reflected sound, because everything was very very loud. While the orchestra has nothing like sheen or brilliance of Vienna’s, Timo Handschuh led a well-differentiated performance with lots of detail and good ensemble.

The cast did an excellent job maintaining the tone, which was far more consistent and defined than the Vienna production I saw last week. Singing was universally good, though the words from most of the female cast members were incomprehensible–I’m not sure if iffy German or the acoustic was at fault here. Paul Armin Edelmann made a suitably middle class, solidly sung Eisenstein (and the only member who sounded Viennese), Adriane Quieroz sang Rosalinde with smoky tone and very good coloratura, and Franziska Gottwald sang Orlofsky with dark tone and mopey acting. Standouts were Robin Johannsen’s impeccably accurate Adele, and César Gutiérrez’s boisterous, overflowing Alfred, a virtuosic piece of tenor parody in both voice and acting.

Orlofsky was laughing by the end, at least.  I was somewhat less.  It’s a refreshingly unfusty production, but I wish it had dug a little deeper.

Speaking of digging, I have some (OK, a lot of) words about Herheim’s Rosenkavalier, also from Stuttgart, that I will hopefully be able to post soon.

Photos copyright Martin Sigmund/Staatsoper Stuttgart


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