It’s July 29th 1951; the opening night of the first Bayreuth Festival since the end of the war. Noted anti-Nazi Wilhelm Furtwängler will conduct the Festival Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from the Festspielhaus. It will be broadcast live by Süddeutsche Rundfunk(*) and will be relayed by stations in Germany, Austria, France and Sweden. You are sitting in front of your valve radio because commercial transistor models are not yet on the market. You can’t record it to listen to little because tape reorders are almost as rare in 1951 as transistor radios.
Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus is a work I know next to nothing about beyond it being an operetta and one that tends to be used for gala events with lots of interpolations, star turns and updated dialogue. Since in a few months time I shall be seeing a new production by Christopher Alden I figured I had better try and establish some sort of reference base from which I might be able to figure out what Alden was getting up to.
First up in my research project ids a 1996 production from the Seefestspiele Mörbisch. Since this festival claims to be the operetta capital of the world and is only 60km from Vienna I thought it might be along the lines of going to Stratford to see Shakespeare. The Seefestspiele is situated on the banks of the Neusiedler See and features a 6000 seat “audience park” overlooking a very large stage/set actually on the lake so obviously it’s not a normal opera house setting. In this production by Elmar Ottenthal the huge area available is used to stage the big set pieces in Act 2 but otherwise a very restricted area of the stage is used for the main action. There seems to be quite a lot of background business in Act 2 but the video director (Georg Madeja) rarely lets us see it.
The production starts off feeling like an old fashioned musical comedy and pretty much stays that way through Act 1. In Act 2 it takes a slightly weirder turn. There are some very strangely costumed characters wandering around Orlofsky’s ballroom and the ballet is a strange mixture of Swan Lake, a fetish club, Disney Cavalcade of Lights and Daleks with Christmas lights. It’s not very interesting choreography since the one decent dancer (Marion Rainer playing Ida) spends the entire scene on a silver platter held up by several strapping fellows in scraps of leather while their team mates aim bull whips at her rather ineffectually. Also the Skovakian Folk Dance Ensemble SLUK puts in an appearance for no obvious reason. Act 3 is dominated by the Jailer, Frosch, played by one Thaddäus Podgorski. He is apparently a TV personality so the audience find his every gesture hilarious even if it’s all about as sophisticated (and funny) as Benny Hill. The whole thing feels a bit disjointed as a result. Here’s a clip showing the rather weird ballet:
The singing and acting is pretty good if very varied in style. The Alfred of Tomas Lind is very much a light musical theatre type voice and he rather camps up the “anyone for tennis” approach.i Ute Gfrerer’s Adele is a typical soubrette soprano. She’s got a pleasant voice, her colotura is lively and accurate and she acts very well. The genuine operatic component is supplied by Peter Edelmann as Eisenstein and Silvana Dussmann as Rosalinde backed up by Waldemar Kmentt as the prison governor. All three are solid opera professionals if not exactly international stars and they all sing and act very well. Edelmann is surprisingly athletic while Dussmann comes across as very much the diva. Orlofsky is played by a counter-tenor, Artur Stefanowicz. I didn’t much like his rather thin toned voice or stiff acting and I’m not convinced that there is any good reason not to use a mezzo in the role. Rudolph Bibl conducts the Symphonie-Orchester Burgenland and the Chor der Seefestspiele Mörbisch. It’s not the most demanding score in the world and it all sounds fine.
The disk quality is OK for the period. It’s a 4:3 picture that doesn’t have enough resolution to carry the long shots which pretty much forces the video director to get in close. Sound is adequate Dolby 2.0. It places some off screen voices rather well but isn’t especially lively. Subtitles are English only and there’s a basic English/German booklet.