Posted by: viewfromtheriva | December 29, 2011

Split Opera Die Fledermaus sinks in booze, but is saved by singing


A sensational hit with audiences and singers alike since its premiere more than 135 years ago, Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (The Bat)  has been part of the standard operetta repetoire around the world ever since.

The libretto is full of charm, mistaken identity and wit and the music is memorable from the very first bar, with rousing choral work and terrific solo opportunities for baritones, tenors and sopranos.

Marijana Prohaska shines as the coquettish maid Adele

While the Split Opera company has to be credited with taking the risk of transforming this charming, elegant operetta into something new–creating an endless boozy night filled with gratuitous sexual innuendo lost the very essence of what The Bat is all about.

Thank goodness for the glorious singing and terrific acting, dancing (a short five minutes by the always stunning Split Ballet) and musicianship.  The female leads included a sensational Adele, played winningly by Marijana Prohaska and Olga Kaminska as Rosalinde, in fine voice.

The male leads, normally played by younger men, Rosalind’s husband and her lover, were played by veterans Voljen Grbac (Rosalinde’s husband)  and Sveto Matosic Komneneovic, (Alfred, her lover) both of whom more than made up for their lack of youthful ardor with terrific on stage energy and excellent singing.

Dr. Falke, normally a minor role, was an oddly dominant figure in this production, skillfully played and sung by Armando Puklavec.  Although Ms. Prohaska  dominated every scene she was in, Frank, the prison governor, played by Ozren Bilusic, stole the show.  With Nikola Ivosevic as Frosch, his drunken assistant, the duo were riotous.

I’ve never seen an opera singer like Bilusic able to move so amazingly well and sing at the same time.  His comic abilities were truly memorable.

Champagne glasses never left the stage

The scenic design, by Vesna Rezic, was wildly uneven.  The opening set, an interior sitting room in the Eisenstein home, was decent enough, but the next scene, typically a grand ballroom with costumed ladies and gentlemen, somehow became the deck of a badly designed yacht.  With a quartet of radar domes and tacky fluorescent lighting around a sliding glass door above a staircase, the yacht “effect” was cramped and clumsy and its only purpose seemed to be as a way for the company to lurch back and forth as if the boat was rolling in the sea.

But the final scene, in the jail, was visionary.  The jail was a giant, slowly turning birdcage, with the endlessly singing Alfred perched on a swing!  The rotating stage served as a perfect foil for Frank and Frosch to stagger about and the audience loved it.

But in the final analysis, the production just didn’t work.  The whole libretto seemed to stand on its head–instead of intrigue and mistaken identities, the grandeur and mystery of an elegant masked ball, for some inexplicable reason only Rosalinde was in a mask.  Instead of surprise and intrigue, there was stupidity and grotesquerie.

The whole illusion of an extra marital dalliance because of mistaken identity (The Bat costume which Rosalinde wears to test her husband’s fidelity) was lost.  And the constant pawing, men literally with their pants off and looking under skits (in one scene, Alfred actually puts a champagne bottle between the legs and pours into Rosalinde’s waiting cup) was just too tedious.

Die Fledermaus doesn’t need Brecht or a drunken orgy to make it work.  There are some real kernels of joy in the production which need to be developed. I’d like to see it re-worked to include more of the magic to make it more sensuous than merely sexy.

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