Austria Johann Strauss II, Die Fledermaus: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Vienna Volksoper, with Wiener Staatsballett / Roberto Paternostro (conductor), Volksoper, Vienna, 6.4.2013 (SRT)
Eisenstein – Sebastian Reinthaller
Rosalinde – Ulrike Steinsky
Adele – Elisabeth Schwarz
Falke – Günther Haumer
Orlofsky – Annely Peebo
Alfred – Alexander Pinderak
Frank – Kurt Schreibmayer
Heink Zednik (director)
Pantelis Dessyllas (designer)
Doris Engl (costumes)
After the rather serious artistic pursuits of the past two evenings (see Parsifal and the Skandalkonzert), my last night in Vienna saw the rather more earthy pleasures of Die Fledermaus. After all, it would surely be perverse to go to Vienna and not spend an evening in the company of Johann Strauss.
The Volksoper lies across town from the city’s more famous musical venues. Unlike the Staatsoper, which originally grew out of the theatre of the court and nobility, the Volksoper (literally “People’s Opera”) was built to serve the rising middle classes of the suburbs when the city expanded with the development of the Ringstrasse in the 19th century. The Volksoper opened its doors in 1898 and while it might not command the star names or (much of the time) the stellar musical standards of its rival, it has a community feel and an ensemble atmosphere that may be lacking elsewhere. One thing they do noticeably easier than their compatriots across town is have fun, and I can scarcely imagine a better venue in which to watch Die Fledermaus. The production, for a start, was squarely and safely set in late 19th Century Vienna (no Regietheater excesses here!) and the whole company revelled in the spoken dialogue . (A little too much for my liking, in fact:. I felt that the pudding had been decidedly over-egged by the third act, but there was a limit to how much of it I could follow, and the German-speaking members of the audience were clearly lapping it up).
This is one of the pieces that turns up most frequently in the Volksoper repertory and from the overture onwards it was clear that they have this music in their blood. The orchestra play Strauss’s delicious score as to the manner born, and Roberto Paternostro was unafraid to play with Strauss’s tempi in a way that made the music breathe naturally, never in an artificial or contrived manner. The cast were variable as individuals but worked together brilliantly. The only slightly weak link was Ulrike Steinsky’s rather matronly Rosalinde. She couldn’t really pull it off as a femme fatale and, while all notes were there, she seemed to be struggling towards the end of the evening, making rather heavy weather of the third act. Elsewhere, though, there was a lot to enjoy. Elisabeth Schwarz was a bright, lustrous Adele with precise coloratura and a good sense of humour. Good as was the laughing song, her acting song in the third act was even finer. Annely Peebo was also an excellent Orlofsky. She used the unusual timbre of her voice to great effect, and I thought that her slightly monochrome acting style actually worked to depict the bored aristocrat rather effectively.
The men were all super, led the Eisenstein of Sebastian Reinthaller who acted effectively and sang with virile beauty. Even finer was Günther Haumer’s Falke, who sang with wonderfully homely tone and glorious vocal colour. He led Brüderlein und Schwesterlein beautifully, and it made me regret that Strauss didn’t give him more to sing. Kurt Schreibmayer was an affable and vocally distinguished Frank, and Alexander Pinderak sang Alfred with the right mix of beauty and humour. There were even two guest appearances from the Vienna State Ballet at Orlofsky’s party, adding an extra sheen to the already high class of the proceedings.
So next time you’re in Vienna, don’t neglect to look up the Volksoper. They may not have the fame or reputation of their colleagues in the the city centre, but their musical standards are still extremely high and they gave me a very enjoyable evening in the company of this most Viennese of operettas. It also helped that they, very considerately, provided the surtitles in English for the benefit of guests like me.