Fledermaus, is arguably the best operetta ever, with its stream
of wonderful tunes and superb vocal writing. In 1950 Decca issued
an excellent LP version conducted by Clemens Krauss with a star
cast of singers. This has been followed by a series of enjoyable
versions conducted by the likes of Karajan and Carlos Kleiber.
These have given enormous pleasure and I looked forward to a DVD
version that hopefully would extend pleasure to a visual as well
as vocal treat.
DVD sleeve at a casual glance looked promising with its picture
of ballerinas even though the man looked rather odd. Before viewing,
I read through the booklet and learned that an attendee of the
first performance had sued for his money back as he had paid for
his ticket for the operetta and instead got a "nasty stage
play with musical accompaniment". I read about dialog that
illustrates the frustrated petit bourgeois and the latent fascism
within the context of a rotten world. This clearly was not to
be a usual treatment of this normally delightful operetta. So
has in recent years been blessed (or cursed) by a generation of
directors who think it important to develop a new concept of what
a work means and how it should be presented. This usually involves
setting the work in a new locale and in a new time (usually the
present). Sometimes these new concepts do make you think more
strongly about what the work means. All too often however it builds
barriers to the understanding and or the enjoyment of the opera.
However in most cases the actual text is unchanged or altered
only to a minimal extent.
this production however, Hans Neuenfels, has written new dialogue
and incorporated text by other authors (almost an hour of new
dialogue has been added). Frosch becomes a female cynical ‘comedienne’
who appears from time to time and holds up the action with some
of the most tedious, pointless and pretentious dialogue imaginable
for example "Arnold Schönberg like Johann Strauss was
a very popular Austrian musician".
is played by the jazz musician David Moss who appears as a Rastafarian
Prince and produces a cacophony of squeaks and squeals. The "Ball"
is a nightmare of a disco, with immense quantities of cocaine
replacing the traditional champagne; the Act ends as a drug riot
with corpses and a fire. The male guests wear trousers with braces
and bowler hats and little else; the ladies wear grubby-looking
underwear (corsets and stockings).
the prison scene, Adele when singing about her wish to become
an actress, is surrounded by prisoners only wearing underpants
who clearly are excited by her – later she re-appears with her
clothes torn looking as if she has been assaulted or worse. One
could go on, but the whole production gives the impression of
having been written and designed by a group of immature undergraduates
competing with each other in their attempts to shock the audience.
They obviously succeeded as the applause was heavily decorated
the musical side, Marc Minkowski conducts his excellent orchestra
in a lively fashion but has not quite mastered the subtle Viennese
accenting of the waltz rhythm and in the purely orchestral pieces
does not have the weight of strings of say the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra. Malin Hartelius gives an exemplary performance as Adele,
but otherwise the solo singing is lacklustre; the singers’ morale
will not have been helped by the often-ridiculous costumes they
had to wear and the hostile response of much of the audience.
The Chorus however sings well. As a kind of ‘bonus’, a few bars
of Wagner have been added, as also has a truncated performance
or Arnold Schönberg’s version of the Emperor Waltz
that adds a dash of vinegar to the original Strauss music.
the staging is brilliant and the costumes are brilliant in design
but perhaps best described as "different". The filming
and sound are also good. One technical point – it would have been
much better if the track marking had separated the musical items
from the spoken text. The lengthy booklet tries hard to explain
and justify the staging but in the end, this is not a performance
but a travesty that is best avoided.