If you can image an operetta made up of equal
parts of Pirates of Penzance, Il Signor Bruschino,
Love for Three Oranges and Forza del Destino you’d
come up with a fair idea of this one. Even though it’s by the
light-hearted Strauss, it is hardly a total barrel of laughs.
The plot concerns a soldier who was forced to kill his own brother
during the Thirty Years’ War, and was on the point of suicide
out of remorse, had even written the note, then suddenly decided
instead to run away with his son to live deep in the forest and
protect the boy from any experience of violence or evil. Well,
don’t you know that eventually the army arrives and impresses
the boy into service, and the plot begins to unfold. But this
is operetta, so I’m not giving much away if I tell you everything
The singing, dancing and acting are all excellent,
although none of the names are familiar to me. Video direction
is sensible, but only one minor flaw: at the opening we see Simplicius
as a small child; the passage of time is indicated and Simplicius
now appears as a young man, but because of many close-ups the
video audience loses awareness of the actual size of the actor
and we miss this transition which would be very obvious to the
theatre audience. The staging is elaborate, colourful and delightfully
fantastic. The horrors of war are vividly caricatured and against
this backdrop the relatively light-hearted story unfolds with
lots of wild peasant jollity, drunk soldiers and celebration.
As I’ve already hinted it involves mistaken identity and arguments
over the wording of contracts and notes and at one point everybody
on stage seems to end up with the same last name. There are plenty
of opportunities for dances and songs, and some delightful romantic
duets. But, as you can guess, some of the jokes are not so funny,
and we are left with a bittersweet message that happiness can
be fragile and must be seized when and where available and appreciated
for all its worth.
After a failure at the first performance in 1887
the work was revised several times by Strauss and eventually abandoned
in view of continuing hostile public reaction. Modern audiences
are better able to appreciate an operetta on a serious theme,
a mixture of light-heartedness and black humour. For a long time
it was thought to be lost, but recently recovered manuscripts
permitted a reconstruction. Some of the familiar Strauss tunes
seem put to odd uses here, but the logic of it eventually convinces,
and we are off to a vivid, captivating evening’s entertainment.
The menus selection bar is a little askew, but
you can figure it out after a minute. I find no listing of a North
American NTSC version.
An excellent newly discovered operetta emerging
out of a tragic situation; marvellous entertainment, brilliant
staging, beautiful music, plenty of laughs, some cynical humour.
Perhaps not suitable for young children.