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Glyndebourne's 'Fledermaus': "Baritones Behaving Badly"
on 8 July 2004
This new release comes from last summer's new production of 'Die Fledermaus' at Glyndebourne, the first ever at that bucolic English opera house. I can happily report that it is first-rate in all respects. The production is helped by the cutting-edge facilities of the new Glyndebourne Opera House built in the 1990s; the ingenious and striking revolving stage setting is a marvel. The story has been updated by about thirty years - to about 1900 - in order to subtly emphasize the sexual subtext of the characters' behavior, something not so easily done in the original 1870 setting and with the original text. The text, too, has been updated - in German - and the score is a new critical edition of the Strauss's 1874 score, and it is played complete except for one very minor cut. The cast is superb. As I write this review Amazon has not included the cast list, so I shall do so:
Alfred - Pär Lindskog
Adele - Lyubov Petrova
Rosalinde - Pamela Armstrong
von Eisenstein - Thomas Allen
Dr. Blind - Ragnar Ulfung
Dr. Falke - Hakan Hagegard
Frank - Artur Korn
Prince Orlofsky - Malena Ernman
Frosch - Udo Samel
Ida - Renée Schüttengruber
The London Philharmonic is conducted by very talented young (32) conductor (and the LPO's new principal guest conductor), Vladimir Jurowski. (And in case you wondered, yes he is the son of conductor Mikhail Jurowski.) The director is Stephen Lawless, who has done a wonderful job of underlining the the hypocrisies of the fin de siécle Viennese middle class. It's not for nothing, he says in an interview included on the DVD, that the operetta is named 'The Bat,' as it shows the after-dark behavior of the bourgeoisie. In his interlude before the beginning of Act III, German actor Udo Samel as Frosch gives the operetta a new subtitle, 'Baritones Behaving Badly.' (Of course, the other reason for its name is that the deus ex machina of the plot is the sly Dr. Falke [Ger. 'Falcon,'] who dresses as a bat at the fancy dress ball of the Act II.)
The costumes are gorgeous, the dancing spectacular, the sets sumptuous. The singing, I have to say, is the equal of the starry cast of the te Kanawa/Prey/Domingo Covent Garden DVD from 1983. And it makes the recent Euro-trashy production from Salzburg even less desirable than it already was. (Go read my review of that DVD for more details of that travesty.) The acting of the singers - all of whom LOOK the part - is subtle and convincing. I would single out the acting of mezzo Malena Ernman, as the epicene Prince Orlofsky, quite the most convincing jaded young aristocrat I've ever seen; she sings well, too, and even in her singing she sounds so, erm, bo-o-ored. . It was good to see veterans Ragnar Ulfung and Hakan Hagegard singing wonderfully as Blind and Falke. Thomas Allen, who continues to be one of the most talented bass-baritones around, is superb as Eisenstein; he showed a comic side I'd never seen before. Pär Lindskog, a tenor not previously known to me, is suitably narcissistic as the singing teacher, Alfred, but occasionally he is a bit under pitch. As to the two main ladies - Armstrong and Petrova - I have nothing but raves for their performances, singing and acting. Petrova gets the most out of her soubrette role and Armstrong plays and sings the not-so-pure Rosalinda with zest and a rich sound.
The extras: Subtitles in English and Spanish. The production is entirely in German except for the spoken interlude in English by Udo Samel as Frosch. Options for stereo or surround sound audio. Pictures of the cast, of the drawings for the costumes and sets. A short interview with the architects of the new Glyndebourne, with a tour of the house and picture of the old house. A short piece about the Viennese waltz. Interviews with Lawless, Armstrong, Allen, Hagegard and Jurowski. The latter illustrates points from the score at the piano.
A triumph for all concerned. A hearty recommendation.
2 DVDs: Total time of the operetta 159 mins. Extras: 35 mins.