If you like comedy then why not spread your wings and try watching the classic production of Die Fledermaus directed by Otto Schenk. This DVD is of a production from 1972, but it has not dated badly and stars a dream cast including Janowitz, Wachter and Windgassen. The Wiener Philharmoniker is conducted with gusto by Karl Bohm, who brings out the humour inherent the music, whilst the cast play with each other and the teasing libretto.
Die Fledermaus is a melodious operetta written by Johann Strauss II. The amusing libretto is by Richard Genee, based on work by Haffner and Benedix and gives the lie to the idea that German cannot be a humourous language. Indeed Die Fledermaus is probably one of the most successful humourous operettas ever written. Premiered in 1874, it was composed in just 42 nights.
The plot is seemingly a light farce of mistaken identity. Near the start Rosalinde’s husband is due to be arrested, but it is her lover Alfred who is at her house instead of her husband when the jailer arrives. Alfred is arrested – and of course cannot complain as to say he isn’t her husband would have worse consequences than a night in prison. This gives an idea of the convoluted and farcical plot from which Die Fledermaus weaves its magical humour. Like many operas it delights in showing us cads and baddies and human nature at its worst, although here they superficially blame their behaviour on champagne, la la la la la la la.
Directed by Otto Schenk, who also plays the drunken jailer, this production of Die Fledermaus has been filmed more like a film than a typical opera DVD. There is no audience and the sets by Jan Schlubach are a treat. Being from 1972 it has relatively static cameras and does not indulge in clever-clever editing, but it brings the essence of Die Fledermaus to the small screen. The hilarity transfers well from the opera house and it is a fun evening’s entertainment. The costumes by Barbara Bilabel are a delightful reminder of the luxury and wealth of Vienna at that period, and the behaviour of the principals shows that human nature does not change.
This production features the original German singing, with English subtitles. This is by far the best way to enjoy any foreign work. It has become the classic performance of Die Fledermaus, for its style, singing and humour.
Even if opera is not usually your bag, this operetta is highly recommended. If you do watch it then please tell us in the comments what you thought.