on 18 February 2014
There are many bright stars shining in this filmed performance of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (it's a studio film, not a filmed theater performance), but perhaps the brightest of them all is Otto Schenk the stage director, who, aside from magisterially playing the spoken part of Frosch the prison guard, magisterially coordinates this charming, charming staging of the operetta (just like he did that same year for the audio recording of the same operetta for conductor Willi Boskovsky and his great ensemble under the EMI label – and it is hard to choose between the greatness of the two casts; vocally at least, one singer in each recording makes each unmissable for me: Gundula Janowitz in this one and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the Boskovsky).
The dialogues in the spoken sections of this performance (seemingly recorded live, while the musical numbers are obviously done in lip-sinc, but very well) play like very very good theater: they are well acted, measured and funny: funny but never vulgar, even at their broadest (and there are a few broad moments and situations in the operetta); the pace is masterful. Everyone delivers beautifully under Schenk’s guidance, and the light and graceful Viennese tone is captured dead on by everyone. You may have your favorites among the performers, both theatrically and vocally, but they are all superb. The acting is always engaging, always natural and crisp (granted, the broadness is just slightly less grounded in the climax of the third act, but why quibble?), always born from the characters (the actors/singers never break character). The pace is just right, neither too slow nor too fast; the performing is inherently amusing even when there are no guffaws to be had (there are some, but only where appropriate); there is no desperate need to ingratiate the audience and extort laughs from them. Yet the whole package is ingratiating and charming in its own right.
Among the singers, everyone seems comfortable doing what they do, though Erich Kunz as Frank is the most consummate of them, expertly breezing through his beautiful comic performance without apparent effort. Janowitz is very witty as Rosalinde, and her arias in both the first two acts are gracefully hilarious. Weachter is just right, handsome, robust and excitable; Windgassen as old prince Orlofsky gets character laughs that are rarely to be got, barely moving a muscle. You can tell that a lot of intelligent rehearsal went into this production, and that one intelligent person was unequivocally at the helm. Everyone measures up expertly. Each performance is full of little character touches that are both natural, touching and amusingly theatrical; no moment of the action, whether full number or transitional passage, is without its little inventions.
The realistic sets and costumes are pure old Vienna, with perfect houses you would expect these characters to live in, lovingly recreated down to the smallest detail (the black upright piano in Eisenstein’s sitting room has an open score on it waiting to be played, and a period painting over it; the dinner trays are appropriately silver; even Orlofsky does not receive his guests in an improbable stagey open space but in a real villa with rooms, with a long dinner table beautifully set, and has real archairs for his guests to sit in after dinner).
There are also some nice touches in the direction of the musical numbers, where gestures correspond to bits of music: Otto Schenk loved music, and subsequent to this engagement was to become one of the most celebrated opera directors of the following decades, working in Europe and the US. And his love of music certainly shows here.
Vocally, it’s an embarrassment of riches, and I am not going to split hairs; the women especially are heavenly. Physically, there might be a slight flaw in the casting in my view, namely Waldermar Kmentt as Alfred: if Rosalinde had to pick a lover to fool around with when Eisenstein is away, why pick this one? Kmentt is too old and plain to compete with Waechter, who is very sexy as Eisenstein; but love is blind I guess.
Lastly, Boehm is a very fine conductor, and graceful, though uncharacteristically his pacing is slightly more leisurely than Boskovsky’s.
See this Fledermaus, because I do not think you will ever see a finer one.
on 3 February 2012
Not a review of Die Fledermaus itself: a fairly pointless exercise as few review readers won't know the operetta.
Firstly, it isn't an English translation (which never works) but the original German.
It's colourful, energetic, and well sung. The leads are all good actors as well as singers and it's a good looking production as well.
The English sub-titles are, if you need to use them, good, clear and fairly unobtrusive.
Thoroughly recommend it.
on 4 March 2013
We bought this as a gift for friends, aleady owning it. It is a studio production, with, I think, dubbed soundtrack from the same singers.
The production is delightful, and realistic. The singers are superb. Gundula Janowitz was one of the greatest sopranos of her era, and it is wonderful to see her singing in operetta, with such wit. Renate Holm was also superb as Adele. Some haver questioned Eberard Waechter as Eisenstein, but we though his role well acted and sung. It is fascinating to see Wolfgang Windgassen, one of the great Wagner tenors as Orlovsky (a part often sung by an alto). He conveys a great sense of world-weariness in the part.