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Johann STRAUSS II (1825-99)
Die Fledermaus (1874)
Mireille Delunsch sop (Rosalinde);
Malin Hartelius sop (Adele)
Christoph Homberger ten (Eisenstein)
Jerry Hadley ten (Alfred)
Olaf Bär bar (Doctor Falke)
David Moss sngr (Prince Orlofsky)
Dale Duesing bar (Frank)
Franz Supper ten (Doctor Blind)
Daniela Mühlbauer sop (Ida)
Elisabeth Trissenaar spkr (Frosch)
Arnold Schoenberg Chorus
Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg/Marc Minkowski
Stage director: Hans Neuenfels
Video director: Don Kent
Sound PCM Stereo/Dolby 5.1, Format 16:9,
Recorded at the Salzburg Festival in 2001
DVD ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 340 [170 minutes]

Die 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.

The 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 it proved.

Opera 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.

With 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".

Orlofsky 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).

In 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 by booing.

On 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.

Technically 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.

Arthur Baker



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