The Frosch report

Casting for the upcoming COC production of Die Fledermaus, to be directed by Christopher Alden, was announced back in February with one notable exception. There has been no word on who will take the speaking role of the drunken gaoler Frosch in Act 3.  This part is usually played as a buffoon by a second rate comedian(1) so Toronto mayor Rob Ford would seem an obvious choice.  Unfortunately it’s a speaking part so that rules him out.  Now, apparently, we can expect a ‘crisis of capitalism’ Fledermaus but I’m not sure that leaves me any the wiser.

So who will play Frosch?  Arthur Kaptainis has the necessary second rate comedian qualifications.  Don Cherry would be box office.  Margaret Atwood loves the opera and would be suitably Aldenesque as a choice.  Justin Trudeau needs the publicity.  Zhang Huang deserves a second chance and one could get some more mileage out of his donkey.  Speculation, the wilder the better, is encouraged.

(1)This makes for real horror in German productions.  Second rate German comedians ranking right up there with second rate Irish cooks.

5 thoughts on “The Frosch report

  1. At the Staatsoper in Vienna the part tends to be played by somebody from the national theatrical stage, the Burgtheater. To be a Burg ensemble member means you are capable of some high-grade thesping but name recognition comes mainly from the tacky Austrian TV sitcoms most of them get involved with at some point in their careers. This ought to be promising for Frosch but in practice there is a Viennese tradition of inserting political sketches which not only stretch out the evening to an interminable length but are also satirically flaccid. This I find very interesting because there is an evasion going on here conditioned more generally by what it means for an Austrian institution like the Staatsoper to hug its feeble Schenk staging so close year after year. The guise of dumb farce must be maintained at all costs because a director or Frosch needn’t be at all confrontational (like Neuenfels) for a staging to speak some uncomfortable truths. At the time of the EU sanctions against Austria for Jörg Haider’s inclusion in the federal government, Elfriede Jelinek wrote a brilliant essay about Fledermaus, amnesia, and the what we make of the past, from which I translate as much as I dare:

    Is Die Fledermaus therefore about things past whose implications extend into the present? No. The present IS the past, and will always return, when nobody is willing to be taught anything by it, as something undead, so to say – a vampire, whether that’s just a bat or a bloodthirsty Count Dracula. But to the contrary, this means nothing to us! Nobody can show us [‘vormachen’ is polysemic and can also mean ‘deceive’], although many have tried; it adds up to nothing for us, because first we do something ourselves, and that is to have fun! And we always want to experience something funny, preferably every day, and not just during carnival time! And this, though by now a reason is immaterial (we have fun anyway), so that this time everything will really come out all right, because we don’t want to think of bad things any more, we all want to be ‘Brüderlein und Schwesterlein’. And if you do not want to be my brother, I’ll smash your skull in.
    But the horrors of Die Fledermaus are very Austrian, as not for one second do they shimmer through the fabric of cheerfulness. […] We have gathered here in this beautiful prison to dance and sing. From what is missing we have taken what we like, and it belongs to us again. Although we are currently still blamed, we are missing nothing. We are, thank you very much, healthy. In operetta the past has consequences, but in life it’s quite different, as the past has always been inconsequential.

    As is often the paradoxical case with Jelinek, the density and clarity of the language is more pronounced in German. Oh and sorry to hijack your thread with this btw. Atwood gets my vote.

    • There’s a fairly strong tradition of satire in Canada, more akin to the British model than anything else(at least the one that existed before the BBC pre-emptively removed its own cojones rather than waiting for the ConDems to do it for them). It’s a multi-faceted sort of satire capable of skewering the political or the artistic establishment. There was a memorable sitcom based on the Stratford Festival (Slings and Arrows) that did a wonderful send up of Atom Egoyan in the persona of avant-garde director Darren Nicholls. But that’s very Canadian and Alden is American and I really don’t think Americans get satire.
      Perhaps Frosch could bemoan the lack of Canadian opera at the COC and the appalling creeping tendency towards Regie that the printocracy critics seem so terrified of?

    • Thinking more specifically about Jelinek’s point, I wonder how a mostly elderly, mostly conservative Toronto audience would react to a Frosch scene that raked up one of the more disreputable aspects of Canadian history. It’s not like we don’t have plenty, it’s just that for the most part raking them up is considered rabble rousing and bad manners and our government tends to get very huffy if foreigners or the UN raise such issues. Germans and Austrians must get used to people raising past issues and no doubt have ways of dealing depending on their age and political orientation. Canadians, perhaps, have thinner skins.
      And no hijacking apology needed. All discussion is more than welcome.

    • Is there any chance this essay is to be found in internet (in german!!!) ? i just googled it but couldn´t find it….. would really appreciate if you can help me with that…

  2. Jelinek is certainly latching on to this notion the work rather relentlessly communicates, that it is pressingly essential to forget and shift blame, which we may permit ourselves to do blamelessly. The Neuenfels Konzept for Salzburg (fantastic production by the way and on DVD, as I’m sure you know) engaged with this a LOT but didn’t make the larger point about collective amnesia that Jelinek does. It’s an approach not just applicable to Austria, as you say, but when I think that the crypto-fascist leader of our far right is poised to come a strong second and even perhaps first in next year’s general election, and that Die Fledermaus is not the only artwork used here to promote a chauvinistic national identity, well… Jelinek has been on to this for years, though her essays are as literary as they are political. I could have selected more astute points than the ones here but most of the language is untranslatable, like the fun she has with ambiguous separable forms of the verb ‘machen’, as in the ‘vor-machen’ example above, which actually come, rather cleverly, from a section of the Fledermaus libretto to do with the warped temporality she discusses. There are also parts of the essay which read out loud correspond in meter with rhythms of tunes from the operetta (needless to say, some very pertinent parts), and I think the form of the piece is musically structured in a way I haven’t figured out yet. The woman really is a genius.

    Anyway, sending up local tastes and your parochial critics sounds like it might have promising pearl-clutching potential.

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