Alpine Champagne: Die Fledermaus at the Teatro alla Scala

Johann Strauss II – Die Fledermaus

Gabriel von Eisenstein – Peter Sonn
Rosalinde – Eva Mei
Frank – Michael Kraus
Prinzessin Orlofskaja – Yelena Maximova
Alfred – Giorgio Berrugi
Dr Falke – Markus Werba
Dr Blind – Krešimir Špicer
Adele – Daniela Fally
Frosch – Paolo Rossi
Ida – Anna Doris Capitelli

Corpo di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala, Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala /  Cornelius Meister.
Stage director – Cornelius Obonya

Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy.  Sunday, February 11th, 2018.

Perhaps there was no other way to follow last night’s supremely intense Peter Grimes in València than with a comedy and this afternoon’s Die Fledermaus at the Scala most certainly fit the bill.  This was the last performance of the run.  There was a genuine sense of a cast enjoying every moment of their final show together and this enthusiasm was absolutely infectious for the audience.  The Scala gathered together a notable cast, composed of Italian, Austrian and Russian singers in a new staging by Austrian director Cornelius Obonya.  Instead of urban Vienna, the setting was an Alpine village, the snowy mountains and starry skies visible in the background.  This could have been a town on the Austro-Italian border as the rewritten dialogue switched between Austrian German and Italian, not to mention the French in the meeting between ‘Renard’ and ‘Chagrin’.  There was also a hysterically funny moment as Orlofskaya launched into English as Falke announced she was in Austria, she hearing Australia, before correcting herself to speak in German.

Photo: © Brescia-Amisano

Indeed, you did read correctly as here, Prinz Orlofsky became Principessa Orlofskaya.  Yelena Maximova might have been dressed in a ball gown but she was also able to drink the men of the cast under the table and was also quite inclined to give Adele a passionate kiss on the lips.  While it did require a few very minor changes to the sung text, I felt it did actually work.  The Italian influence was not only heard in the dialogue.  Girorgio Berrugi’s Alfred was also somewhat of a parody of the Italian tenor, bursting into phrases from Ballo, Cavalleria Rusticana and Traviata at any given moment to express his love for Rosalinde.  It was also an extremely handsome show.  Sets (Heike Scheele) ranged from a mountain villa, to a palatial party, to a dark prison, looked good and allowed the cast just the framework they needed to allow the narrative to take its course.  The presence of the house’s corpo di ballo added a celebratory air, although I’m not quite sure what the pair of trapeze artists brought other than a horrible fear that they might fall off – they didn’t and they certainly impressed with their skill.  While the first two acts flew by, there were issues of pacing in the third, with Frosch’s monologue, here delivered by actor Paolo Rossi, seemingly lasting an eternity.  That said, the audience found it absolutely hilarious, so it may well be that the local humour was lost on me.

Photo: © Brescia-Amisano

Obanya was able to call on the acting abilities of a fine group of singing actors.  Daniela Fally’s Adele was the standout performance in a very strong cast.  Her comic timing was fabulous – those Viennese diphthongs, particularly on her exclamations of ‘was?!’ adding real character to her interpretation of the maid.  The voice has an ease on high that managed to cap the textures nicely in the ensembles and she has a genuine trill.  Her two numbers were delivered with wit and grace.  A notable artist.  Her compatriot, Markus Werba, also made for an excellent Falke.  His compact baritone had a seemingly limitless top, opening up higher and higher.  He was an active stage presence, absolutely tireless moving around the stage.  Maximova’s Orlofskaya brought genuine Slavic raspiness to the role with a deliciously chesty account of her opening number.  She was wonderfully game to everything asked of her.

Photo: © Brescia-Amisano

Peter Sonn was a light, lyrical Eisenstein – perhaps somewhat too light as he didn’t quite impose himself in the ensembles in the way that one might have expected.  He also demonstrated some fine comic timing and his native diction was a pleasure to hear.  Similarly, Eva Mei’s Rosalinde lacked some weight in the middle register where much of the role sits, the voice somewhat soft grained in the middle.  She is also a fabulous actress – her spoken Magyar accent in the party scene was spot on – and she lit up the stage whenever she appeared.  In the Czardas, the higher reaches opened up nicely and she turned the corners splendidly.  Berrugi was a terrific Alfred – with a winning sense of humour, wishing to engage in the parody of the Italian tenor.  His is a warm, generous and handsome voice with genuine ping at the top and he savoured the German text with real charm.  Michael Kraus was somewhat dry of tone as Frank but still has stage presence to spare.

Photo: © Brescia-Amisano

Cornelius Meister led a somewhat measured reading, although, as I mentioned above, the afternoon flew by.  The band sounded somewhat ragged at first – entries were not quite unanimous – as was the chorus at their entry in Act 2.  Things did settle down, however, and they played with a remarkable depth of string tone.  Impressive too the clarinet solo at the opening to the Czardas with genuine warmth and improvisatory spirit.  The chorus sang with full-bodied warmth and their willingness to throw themselves into the party spirit as group of distinct personalities contributed much to the success of the evening.

Photo: © Brescia-Amisano

This was an utterly uplifting afternoon in the theatre, the perfect antidote in these dark days in which we live.  It was always respectably sung and, in Fally, Werba and Berrugi, even more than that.  It was acted with irrepressible spirit and the cast’s enthusiasm filled the theatre with joy.  There were so many moments that had this spectator laughing in delight at the cast’s comedic gifts and witty rewriting of the dialogue.  Obonya’s Fledermaus works because he doesn’t treat it as a museum piece but rather as a living, breathing twenty-first century operetta – one that represents this marvellous, multilingual Europe in which we are fortunate to live.

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