Never a dull moment in Barrie Kosky’s new Munich production of Die Fledermaus

GermanyGermany Johann Strauss II, Die Fledermaus: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Bavarian State Opera / Vladimir Jurowski (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, 7.1.2024. (ALL)

Bavarian State Opera’s Die Fledermaus © W.Hösl

To date, the great successes of the latest productions at Munich Opera under the era of Serge Dorny have been works that are not part of the standard repertoire: War and Peace by Prokofiev, The Nose by Shostakovich, and Brett Dean’s Hamlet. On the other hand, certain reinterpretations of classics, such as Verdi’s Aida and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, left us somewhat unsatisfied. (Reviews of all of these are available on this site.)

This performance of Die Fledermaus, a flagship work for Munich Opera – indeed for any opera house – is a great achievement: one no longer misses the legendary 1970s Munich production of this work by Carlos Kleiber and Otto Schenk.

Barrie Kosky was visible among the audience in late November during the revival of Wozzeck, and one could sense an incredible amount of rehearsal led up to this performance. He approaches this work, half-opera – half-operetta, with immense expertise, built and consolidated at the Komische Oper in Berlin. The action, the music and dance passages as well as the dialogues, move along smoothly and there is never a dull moment.

Eisenstein dreams during the overture, jostled by a series of dancers dressed as bats. The facades of the houses in Vienna come to life, and it is revealed that Herr and Frau von Eisenstein live on Vienna’s Judenplatz, a nod to the somewhat hidden Jewishness of the composer. The first act, in the style of a Feydeau farce, is full of misunderstandings in the bourgeois context of the era, spiced with subtle hints. Alfred, making his entrance on stage with a tennis racket, evokes the time when Kleiber appeared dressed as Boris Becker.

The second act, the ball of Prince Orlofsky, blends choristers and dancers in an androgynous atmosphere where gender identity fades. The chorus, singing ‘Brüderlein, Schwesterlein…’, appears in neon costumes and glitter, moving forward imaginatively and without heaviness.

The third act, set against a scaffolding reminiscent of what Kosky did at the Berliner Ensemble for Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, surprises with not one, but six different Froschs – one speaking, four dancing, and a sixth … to be discovered in the video available free for a few more months via ARTE Concert in various European countries (but not the UK). Despite its brevity, this act is enriched by Kosky with some unexpected numbers. On stage, joy and contagious professionalism blend harmoniously.

Despite the relatively homogeneous cast, some roles did not seem to be cast quite right. Countertenor Eric Jurenas, replacing Andrew Watts, appeared to underplay his role and lacked the stage presence that a great mezzo-soprano can bring to the character of Orlofsky. It is quite an ironic coincidence that Ivan Rebroff was also a questionable choice in the legendary studio recording directed by Carlos Kleiber, while Brigitte Fassbaender proved to be the driving force in the video recording made in the same hall.

Diana Damrau showed superb acting qualities and undeniable stage presence but did not fully embody Rosalinde. As was the case for Marlis Petersen in the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, also reworked by the Kosky–Jurowski duo, she lacks a certain vocal volume, and her performance of the daunting Czardas in the second act ended on a high note that is often avoided. Sean Panikkar, in the role of Alfred, was cautious not to unbalance the duets, and was not able to exploit his vocal capacities to the full.

Front: Georg Nigl (l, Eisenstein) and Katharina Konradi (r, Adele) © W.Hösl

But Georg Nigl gave us a remarkable interpretation of Eisenstein, playing with the text and with a great ability to act and move with ease. Martin Winkler, who played the role of Kovalyov in The Nose staged by Kosky, was a vibrant Frank, generously giving of himself, especially in the third act. Katharina Konradi shone as Adele, with all the required qualities: a lovely timbre, a strong style, impressive volume, and great charm on stage.

In the pit, Vladimir Jurowski revealed the full splendor of the music. The ensemble numbers were executed with meticulous care and, under his direction, reached a subtlety worthy of Mozart. This performance was the seventh in this series, and the harmony between the orchestra and the singers was excellent, with a more natural balance than in the past when the orchestra often seemed to overpower the voices. This problem, typical of premieres, seems to have been resolved by this performance, revealing Jurowski as a true master of opera, attentive to his singers while giving a great deal of freedom to his musicians.

Fans of the great operetta classics and of Barrie Kosky will meet in February in Zurich, where he will stage The Merry Widow with Michael Volle, Marlis Petersen, and Katharina Konradi. Artists like this are rendering this genre more alive and modern than ever.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

Production ­­– Barrie Kosky
Set designer – Rebecca Ringst
Costume designer – Klaus Bruns
Lighting designer – Joachim Klein
Choreography – Otto Pichler
Dramaturgy – Christopher Warmuth
Chorus master – Christoph Heil

Gabriel von Eisenstein – Georg Nigl
Rosalinde – Diana Damrau
Frank – Martin Winkler
Prinz Orlofsky – Eric Jurenas
Alfred – Sean Panikkar
Dr Falke – Markus Brück
Dr Blind – Kevin Conners
Adele – Katharina Konradi
Ida – Miriam Neumaier
Frosch I – Max Pollak
Frosch II – Franz Josef Strohmeier
Frosch III – Danilo Brunetti
Frosch IV – Giovanni Corrado
Frosch V – Deniz Doru
Frosch VI – Oliver Petriglieri

Dancers – Luissa Joachimstaller, Emma Kumlien, Lisa König, Kristina Stebner, Antonia Čop, Danilo Brunetti, Giovanni Corrado, Deniz Doru, Joseph Edy, Jon Olofsson Nordin, Oliver Petriglieri, Jeremy Rucker

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