Manderley on the Danube
09/16/2023 - & September 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30,October 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 31, November 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 2023, January 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 2024
Sylvester Levay: Rebecca
Nienke Latten (“Ich”), Mark Seibert (Maxim de Winter), Annemieke van Dam*/Marcella Adema (Mrs. Danvers), Boris Pfeifer (Jack Favell), Ana Milva Gomes (Mrs. van Hopper), Silke Braas‑Wolter (Beatrice), James Park (Frank Crawley), Aris Sas (Ben), Ulrich Allroggen (Oberst Julyan), Florian Fetterle (Giles), Bianca Basler (Clarice), Philipp Dietrich (Horridge), Maximilian Klakow (Frith), Jev Davis (Robert)
Orchester der Vereinigten Bühnen Wien, Herbert Pichler/Christoph Huber* (conductor)
Francesca Zambello (stage director), Peter J. Davison (sets), Birgit Hutter (costumes), Mark McCullough (lighting), Thomas Strebel (sound design), S. Katy Tucker (video design), Simon Eichenberger (choreography)
N. Latten, M. Seibert, A. M. Gomes (© VBW/Deen van Meer)
Unless one is a fervent lover of musicals, a trip to Vienna rarely evokes that art form. As the home of the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker among several other first‑rate musical institutions, Vienna is mostly associated with superlative opera and orchestra. For those who prefer lighter fare, operettas at the Wiener Volksoper or coffee with an orchestra playing waltzes are other tempting options. However, musical theatre is alive and well in the Austrian capital and has a significant connection to Broadway.
In fact, ever since the fifties Broadway musicals have been popular in German-speaking countries. This makes sense as musical theatre is the natural progression of operetta. Check the opera season of smaller cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and you will find Cats, A Chorus Line, Les Misérables or Evita as ubiquitous as La bohème, Carmen and Rigoletto. In major cities, such as Vienna or Munich, a secondary theatre that specializes in operettas also produces musicals on a regular basis.
Since the arrival of Cats in 1983, Vienna has continuously produced mega hits that ran for years. More recently, it has been producing its own homegrown musicals and exporting them all over Europe and Asia. These productions, such as Elisabeth (1992) based on the life of Sisi (the Austrian Empress) and Dance of the Vampires (1997) based on Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), often feature historical themes with more gravitas than typical Broadway hits.
Another notable factor is the German and Viennese origins of the Broadway musicals. In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, Vienna, the capital of a multicultural Empire, had become the centre of modernity, even more than its only possible rival, Paris. The diversity of the Austrian capital produced a spark in all aspects of culture – literature (Zweig, von Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler), music (Korngold, Mahler, Zemlinsky, Bruckner, Schönberg, Berg, Webern), painting (Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele), philosophy (Wittgenstein), humour (Karl Kraus), psychology (Freud) and more.
With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and with rising tensions in Central Europe, there was a massive immigration from Vienna as well as from Germany to the United States. These artists and intellectuals of the Viennese diaspora brought its remarkable “Modernity” to America, particularly in New York and Los Angeles. Broadway greats Oscar Hammerstein II (The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Carousel, Oklahoma!, The King and I), Jerome Kern (Showboat) and Frederick Loewe (My Fair Lady, Paint your Wagon, Camelot, Brigadoon) were the sons of German immigrants. The latter’s parents immigrated from Berlin, but were Viennese.
Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (1938), filmed by Hitchcock in 1940, has all the elements of a musical stage work, including a love triangle between Maxim the aristocrat, his new bride “I” (or “Ich” in the present musical) and the haunting memory of his glamorous dead wife, Rebecca. A musical drama that starts as a variant of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt (1920) and ends in a huge fire like Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète (1849) can only be a success.
In addition to pleasant and memorable melodies, this production is blessed with the genius of veteran opera stage director Francesca Zambello. The American stage director makes the action move so effortlessly that the 2 hours and 40 minutes – including an intermission – pass rapidly.
Peter J. Davison’s sets are amazing: Rebecca’s bedroom is worthy of a grand production of a baroque opera, the Hôtel Côte d’Azur on the French Riviera where Maxim meets his new bride is truly luxurious without any excess or vulgarity and the amazing staircase in Maxim de Winter’s palatial home is stunning. The fire at the end of the musical is breathtaking, stylized in the way the fire progresses yet credible in its totality. Other scenes such as the exterior of Manderley, de Winter’s Cornish home, or the platform at the train station are elegantly and convincingly done by using elaborate cloth panels. Opera stage designers have a thing or two to learn from this slick production.
The singers were all first rate, especially Nienke Latten as “Ich”, Maxim’s new bride. An excellent actress, she easily conveys the young woman’s initial naivety through her clumsiness and hesitant moves and speech. Her transformation into a strong woman following Maxim’s revelation about Rebecca’s true nature and the circumstances of her death was astounding. Her bright voice is powerful but she has an affliction some female German-language Broadway singers have, an excessive nasality that is ugly to the ear, but that I suspect is thought to sound “American”.
The role of Maxim de Winter is less demanding vocally, but Mark Seibert makes the most of it. His rendition of “Kein Lächeln war je so kalt”, recollecting Rebecca’s cold smile, was impressive and much appreciated by the audience. What the role lacks in vocal prowess is compensated by an elaborate dramatic construct. Seibert is able to convey Maxim’s vulnerability, fast temper and overall depressive nature with aplomb.
Annemieke van Dam was a credible Mrs. Danvers. Mercifully, she underplayed her role as the late Rebecca’s confidante. It is easy to exaggerate the character’s nastiness, but van Dam opted for a sober dignified interpretation. One has sympathy for this sad character and possibly suspects a subconscious lesbian desire. Her song “Rebecca”, which is twice reprised, is the leitmotif of the musical and she sang it well, though one would have preferred a lower voice in this role. Van Dam’s voice is young, appealing and high (more soprano than mezzo). A lower voice would have better contrasted with Nienke Latten’s high soprano.
The supporting roles were well cast. The most outstanding voice in the performance was that of Ana Milva Gomes, the extravagant American fortune hunter Mrs. van Hopper. Her “I’m an American woman” was the show’s most entertaining song and Gomes exuded glamour and extravagance. Boris Pfeifer made the most of his role as Rebecca’s “cousin” and paramour, Jack Favell. His memorable song “Eine Hand wäscht die andere Hand” was reminiscent of Kurt Weill and German cabaret songs. Though his voice is not powerful, he is an excellent actor and conveyed the character’s sliminess with gusto.
The show opens in London next week and is expected to be a huge success. A musical of such calibre with a first‑rate director and set designer is certainly worth one’s attention, even in stately Vienna, with its marvelously storied opera houses and orchestras.
Ossama el Naggar