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The Bat finally reaches Madrid

Teatro Real
12/09/2023 -  & December 13, 2023 (Paris)
Johann Strauss, jr.: Die Fledermaus
Huw Montague Rendall*/Christoph Filler (Gabriel von Eisenstein), Jacquelyn Stucker (Rosalinde), Leon Kosavic (Dr. Falke), Michael Kraus (Frank), Alina Wunderlin (Adele), Marina Viotti (Orlofsky), Magnus Dietrich (Alfred), Kresimir Spicer*/François Piolino (Dr. Blind), Sunnyi Melles (Frosch), Megan Moore (Ida)
Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana, Xavier Puig (chorus master), Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski (conductor)

M. Minkowski (© Teatro Real/Javier del Real)

Five years ago, La Scala gave its first performance of the most popular Viennese operetta, Die Fledermaus (1874). Likewise, the present performance is the first at Madrid’s Teatro Real. The dichotomy between opera and operetta may have lasted too long in Mediterranean countries. A Spanish form of operetta, the zarzuela, continues to be vibrant but it’s a different world from opera. Nevertheless, in Spain and in German speaking countries the most accomplished opera singers have a tradition of performing their variation of operetta–Montserrat Caballé, Teresa Berganza, Pilar Lorengar, María Bayo and Alfredo Kraus in the former, or Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anneliese Rothenberger, Erna Berger, Fritz Wunderlich and Hermann Prey in the latter.

Almost 150 years after its premiere in Vienna, Die Fledermaus is finally performed in the sacrosanct temple of opera in the Spanish capital, though in a semi‑staged format and with a visiting ensemble. Marc Minkowski, a giant in early music, has an affinity for operetta and has made some of the best recordings of Offenbach’s works. An early music ensemble conducting a late nineteenth century work is an interesting prospect, bringing a fresh outlook and eschewing a heavy‑handed “romantic,” and (in the case of Viennese operetta) schmaltzy tradition. Indeed, as the overture was playing, one sensed a different atmosphere: faster tempi and a lighter sound.

American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, as Rosalinde, had the most memorable voice, a distinct beautiful timbre, a rich creamy middle but alas, a weak upper register. This was compensated for thanks to her natural comic verve and strong stage presence. Her Act II aria, “Klänge der Heimat” (Czardas), was lively, but with diminished high notes towards the end of the aria. In Act II, when the masked Rosalinde pretended to be a mysterious Hungarian countess, one wished for a stronger fake Hungarian accent, as is usually the case.

German coloratura soprano Alina Wunderlin was a terrific Adele, the Eisensteins’ temperamental chambermaid. She was the perfect soubrette, coquettish and charming with precise (though thin) high notes. Her Act II aria, “Mein Herr Marquis”, was like delicious champagne. Her Act III “Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande” aria was utterly charming.

English tenor Huw Montague Rendall, the son of mezzo Diana Montague and tenor David Rendall, was a vibrant Eisenstein, a role that demands charisma more than vocal bravura. He definitely had both.

Croatian baritone Leon Kosavic was delightful as Dr. Falke, Eisenstein’s friend who instigated the whole farce to have his revenge for having been left drunk in the middle of the city dressed in a bat’s outfit. This gave him the ill‑fated sobriquet of Dr. Fledermaus (Dr. Bat), the operetta’s title. One wished the role had more singing. His voice is velvety and sublime, and his stage presence marvelously intense. His phrasing in German was the best of the entire cast.

Swiss mezzo Marina Viotti’s Prince Orlofsky was too masculine, lacking sexual ambiguity, quite an accomplishment in a trousers role, though possibly not a desirable one. Her Act II “Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein... Chacun à son goût” had panache. To add humour, she temporarily pushed Minkowski off the podium to replace him conducting the composer’s Russian March, a piece not in the opera but used together with Thunder and Lightning Polka as fillers in Act III, much of which is spoken dialogue.

I had major fears regarding the third act. How successful can a dialogue‑rich act be in a semi‑staged production? It was a mitigated success. The pleasant surprise was outstanding Swiss-Hungarian actress Sunnyi Melles, performing the spoken role of the drunkard prison guard Frosch. Often this role is overbearing and the humour forced, but here, Melles’s Frosch was the most delectable character of the evening, thanks to her superlative acting skills.

Problems inevitably arise with attempts to have spoken dialogue in a language few understand. Some lines in Spanish were inserted to elicit mostly forced laughs. Ideally, spoken dialogue ought to be in the vernacular, especially in operetta, a lowbrow popular art form. However, it would be impractical for a visiting ensemble, performing in a language not their own (German), to be effective comic actors in another language (Spanish). Perhaps one day the Teatro Real will present its own production of Die Fledermaus, with local singers adept in Spanish, enabling this glorious operetta to become part of the venerable theatre’s repertoire.

Ossama el Naggar



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