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Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus (1873-4)
Libretto by Haffner and Genée
Rosalinde (soprano) – Kiri Te Kanawa
Adele (soprano) – Hildegard Heichele
Eisenstein (baritone) – Hermann Prey
Dr. Falke (baritone) – Benjamin Luxon
Alfred (tenor) – Dennis O’Neill
Prince Orlofsky (mezzo) – Doris Soffel
Dr. Blind (tenor) – Paul Crook
Col. Franke (bass) – Michael Langdon
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Placido Domingo
Recorded (New Year’s Eve?) 1984 at Covent Garden, London
Directed for the stage by Leopold Lintberg and Richard Gregson
Directed for video by Humphrey Burton
NVC ARTS 4509-99216-2 [approx. 176 minutes]


This DVD release of a well-known video performance is something of a mixed bag. Musically, it can probably stand with the best, having a cast of true international quality, a star singer (who knows the work backwards) making his British debut in the pit, and a sumptuous, if very safe, stage production.

The problem is that by the standards of the best new DVD releases (such as the BBC Glyndebourne Carmen) the packaging and presentation here are very shoddy. One can (in a generous mood) forgive the typos and gaffes on the box, such as the blank space where Domingo’s name should go after ‘conductor’. But it’s hard not to feel short-changed with the lack of a booklet. All the necessary information, such as synopsis (this is a complex plot), production details, biographies, chapter points etc. are either missing or relegated to a minuscule space on the outer box cover. It smacks of a rush release. More seriously, there are technical problems (or at least were on my review copy). Some bad instability on the picture at the start seemed to settle after a while. But during Act 2, the synchronisation between soundtrack and visuals started to go astray, and got steadily worse through to the end. By Act 3, the voices were a good couple of seconds behind what’s on screen, which certainly became irritating. I don’t know if this has been sorted, but buyers should be aware.

The show itself is very enjoyable, though it does look rather dated now. As far as I can make out, it was a sort of bumper, gala-style New Year’s Eve production, with all the stops pulled out. This is certainly true of the casting, which is strong throughout. The trouble is, there is a deeper layer to Strauss’s naughty exposé of fin-de-siècle Viennese aristocratic life that goes unexplored. I suppose this was never going to be the night for ‘director’s’ theatre, so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the bubbliness and sheer escapism of it all. The sets and costumes have all the style and opulence you would expect of such an occasion and no one puts a foot wrong.

Vocally, everyone is on good form, with all the ‘big’ arias being relished. Adele’s laughing aria ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ brings the house down. I loved Doris Soffel’s delivery of Orlofsky’s toast to champagne, ‘Im Feuerstrom der Reben’, and Ben Luxon clearly enjoys himself in Falke’s hymn to love, ‘Brüderlein und Schwesterlein’. Dennis O’Neill hams it up suitably as the buffoonish tenor Alfred, and Kiri Te Kanawa stuns us with her virtuosic rendition of the famous Hungarian-style aria in Act 2, complete with on-stage gypsy band.

It’s all great fun, though the ‘guests’ at Orlofsky’s party in Act 2, including the camp Hinge and Bracket duo and a rather shambolic, somewhat embarrassed-looking Charles Aznavour (singing – you guessed it – ‘She’) could be tiresome on repetition.

Domingo keeps things fizzing along at a cracking pace and the orchestra plays well for him. Humphrey Burton’s commendably non-interventionist camera work helps the viewer, though occasional close-ups reveal more than they should, such as wobbly backdrops and singers waiting for entrances.
I’m not sure what the DVD competition is for Die Fledermaus. This release is good value at 3 hours on one disc, but buyers should bear in mind the technical and packaging problems.

Tony Haywood

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