Where’s the Champagne?

It’s really hard to know where to start with Hans Neuenfels’ Die Fledermaus.  It’s a prodcuction that enraged the more conventional patrons when it opened at the Salzburg Festival in 2001.  It even provoked a “false pretences” lawsuit!  There is so much going on that it almost seems to call for a catalogue raisonnée of the various scenes though one fears that would actually be both tedious and unhelpful.  Let’s try instead to explore it thematically.  Neuenfels takes very considerable liberties with the libretto.  A lot of dialogue is cut, a lot is added and numerous non-canonical characters are inserted.  That’s just a start.

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From the House of the Dead

Janáček’s last opera, From the House of the Dead, is a curious piece.  It sets certain episodes from Dostoevsky’s account of his life in prison into a collage of stories that doesn’t have a straightforward narrative arc at all.  It’s quite brutal, as one might expect, and very male dominated.  Few characters stand out as individuals and so the piece becomes very much an exercise in ensemble musical theatre.  The music is unusual too.  In Pierre Boulez’ words it is “primitive”.  Certain phrases are repeated over and over with minimal development to create a sort of “expressionist minimalism”.  It’s extremely interesting to listen to and a great sonic match for the brutal and repetitive nature of prison camp life.

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