Die Fledermaus

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Composer: Johann Strauss II

Libretto: Carl Haffner & Richard Genée

Based on the Vaudeville Le réveillon by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy

First Produced: Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 1974

Present text adapted by Stephen Lawless & Daniel Dooner

Translated by Johanna May

Present Company: Glyndebourne 2003

Director: Stephen Lawless

Sets: Benoit Dugardyn

Costumes: Ingeborg Bernerth

Lighting: Paul Pyant

Choreography: Nicola Bowie

Video Director: Francesca Kemp

London Philharmonic Orchestra

The Glyndebourne Chorus

Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski


Rosalinde: Pamela Armstrong

Gabriel von Eisenstein: Thomas Allen

Adele: Lyubov Petrova 

Alfred: Pär Lindskog

Orlofsky: Malena Ernman

Dr Falke: Håkan Hagegård

Frank: Artur Korn

Frosch: Udo Samel

Dr Blind: Ragnar Ulfung

Ida: Renée Schüttengruber


Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 40.87 GB

Bit Rate: High (30~37 Mbps)

German LPCM 5.0

German LPCM 2.0

Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish & Dutch

Region: All

Opera runtime: 159 minutes

Opus Arte 2008



Conception & Staging: A

Costumes: A

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: A-

Image: A-

Audio: A-

Extras Features: B

Recommendation: A-



The history of Johann Strauss II’s most famous and most enduring operetta raises the question of what constitutes an opera, as distinguished from “operetta” on the one hand and “musical” on the other.  The answer, my dear reader, is both elementary and nuanced.  The simple answer is that it all depends on where it is staged.  This may seem a casual, even flippant observation, but it contains more than a kernel of truth.  Just ask George Gershwin.  The other answer is that it depends on its pedigree.  Operettas trace their genealogy back to the mid-nineteenth century starting with Hervé and, later, Offenbach, the opéra comique and the lyric theatre. 


Operas date from the early seventeenth century.  They had serious, often classical Greek themes that were first successfully produced by composers like Claudio Monteverdi and Francesco Cavalli.  Sex and murder could not be far off, and we get copious doses in the early eighteenth century Italian operas of Handel. Mozart, though he wasn’t the first to make an opera audience laugh, can be credited for bringing comic and satirical themes to the same stage that once only played music dripping with sanctity.



The development of the American musical parallels roughly that of the European operetta, but delayed about 50-75 years.  Both have their roots in vaudeville.  The idea that operas are high brow and operettas and musicals are low is facile, but fairly simple-minded in the face of Mozart, Rossini and Johann Strauss.  The man very likely responsible for bridging the divide – and if the Paris Opéra Comique had anything to say about it, the Grand Canyon is a crack in the pavement by comparison - just ask Hector Berlioz – is none other than Gustav Mahler, who, you will remember, made his living as a conductor rather than as a composer.  It was he, blessed be his name, who brought Die Fledermaus to the stage of the Hamburg Opera House about twenty years after its premiere in Vienna as an operetta.  Since then, Strauss’ tuneful comedy has enjoyed operatic status in all the major opera houses of Europe and elsewhere.  Voila!



What’s it all about?  It is unlikely that you are unfamiliar with Die Fledermaus - or, at least, some of its memorable tunes. The opera has a certain appeal to television audiences and New Years Day celebrations where Prince Orlofsky’s party entertainment included first rank soloists of the day. Its plot is complex, but not especially hard to follow.  You might think of it as a contemporary sequel to “The Marriage of Figaro” in that in both stories there are forces at work to unmask a philandering husband in what turns out to be a comic, yet sincere opportunity for penance. In the Mozart opera, it is the Count who is unmasked by his wife; he apologizes with an eloquence that only Mozart could have us accept. In the Strauss it is Gabriel von Eisenstein, “a man of means,” who is upended by a friend seeking revenge for being the butt of one of Eisenstein’s more humiliating practical jokes.  Eisenstein is revealed for the rake he is, and though forgiven by his wife, he gets eight days in prison to think over his misdeeds.



I am reminded of James Stewart’s remark to Kathryn Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story: “With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.”  We certainly enjoy poking fun at them, but we also understand, or believe, that they are in some ways helpless creatures.  It’s not just ego and power that makes sexual opportunists of celebrities and men in high places, it’s that money buys the ability to cover our weaknesses.  Consider the title of Strauss’ opera “The Bat”: you know, those creatures that hide themselves in the day and come out to play at night.  And what better device to hide in and permit us to indulge ourselves than a masked ball, especially where the champagne flows like water and everyone there lives a double life.

The libretto is ripe with sexual double entendres and puns.  The text is so suggestive that the actors just can’t help themselves pointing, touching, fondling, kissing until the clothes come off or are cross dressed.  Lawless’ setting the action just into the 20th century permits more liberties in this direction than Strauss likely envisioned.



A remarkably international and not especially German-born cast does very well indeed with the special demands of the spoken dialogue (it’s easier to fudge on the singing).  None of the four principals are German, starting with Pamela Armstrong (Virginia) and Thomas Allen (England). Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova was trained in Moscow and at the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and tenor Pär Lindskog is Swedish and is therefore multi-lingual; a first rate tenor playing a second rate tenor, somehow convincing us of both.  The talented Swedish mezzo Malena Ernman pulls off the trouser role of Prince Orlofsky with scarcely a wink to the audience. Perhaps you recall Papgeno in Ingmar Berman’s now classic film of Mozart’s Magic Flute - he is our Falke here: Håkan Hagegård’s baritone has ripened and struck me as even more flexible - probably just an illusion, like everything else about this production.  And I especially liked the warm sound of German Bass Artur Korn as Frank, the prison supervisor.  One bit of tid I just learned from my research is that Miss Armstrong is an asthmatic and often keeps her inhaler tucked away in her costumes.  Now that’s courage at many levels.


Glyndebourne's 31-year old Russian music director, Vladimir Jurowski, who can be seen on camera flirting with the orchestra during a couple of interludes, whips up the London Philharmonic to a measure of elegance, sensuality, wit and dash that surprised this fan.  Ensemble within the orchestra and with the singers is just about perfect.  They seemed to be having a great time and result is contagious.


Stephen Lawless makes a big deal out of his placing the action thirty years hence, but I suspect of greater impact are the brilliant stage designs of Benoit Dugardyn, especially the continually revolving curtains and staircases of the second act that seem to enclose a kind of glass cage prison, and the way Lawless moves his actors across and through them, from one room to the next, as it were.  The set design and the way it is photographed is worth the price of the disc alone.



Video & Audio

Overall, Opus Arte’s video image is very good, especially as it has to deal with scenes having a wide range of light values.  Indeed, there are moments when Eisenstein’s white shirt is overexposed, but in general, the image is quite good at maintaining shadow detail, control of highlights, and expressing proper color.  There is, however, some noise in the early part of the too dark for my taste third act.  Back to Eisenstein for a moment: We can confirm from the Bonus Features that grey and pasty is not Thomas Allen’s natural condition.  In strong light he looks positively ill.  Everyone else comes off healthy.


The audio mix (both in 5.0 and stereo) does a fine job defining the voices, rather than separating them.  Spoken dialogue, of which there is a great deal, is clear and unsibilant. Singing is, with one notable moment of disgrace, beautifully rendered for men and women, and the amusing Malena Ernman’s Prince Orlofsky is dripping with parody when speaking and astonishingly engaging when singing.  The mistake just referred to is almost certainly in the engineering somewhere along the signal path and is uncomfortably given the kiss of death at the very end of Lyubov Petrova’s second act “Adele's Laughing Song.”  The sounds in both the 5.0 and 2.0 mix that are attributed to her at this point, instead of being examples of virtuosity, are positively inhuman shrieks - and it ain’t her.  As is more common than not with Blu-ray opera recordings from Glyndebourne, the orchestra is lucid, full-bodied, with properly distinguished instrumental timbres, and, to my delight, not wrapped around the audience in the surround mix.  I also liked that the onstage musicians are not enhanced but remained in recessive balance with the pit orchestra as they might be heard from the audience.




Opus Arte lists quite a number of Bonus items in the menu. Some are comments by the cast (Pamela Armstrong, Thomas Allen, Haka Håkan Hagegård,) about their characters and their personal introductions to them; one is by the conductor Vladimir Jurowski who comments on the score and demonstrates his points on the piano; another is a segment featuring director Stephen Lawless who talks about his decision to set the story in the early twentieth century and makes some pertinent remarks about the set design.  What's missing here is an extended feature about that set.  Another brief segment about the “Genesis of the Waltz” and its effect on Europe ballrooms is worth a look; the Frosch interlude is included as a kind of outtake.  Two photo galleries (for cast and sets) round out the offerings.  Opus Arte’s usual nicely produced booklet features, in addition to a synopsis and notes by Stephen Lawless, an essay by Tom Sutcliffe who discusses the history of the opera.




Opus Arte’s 2008 Blu-ray release of Stephen Lawless’ 2003 Glyndebourne Festival production of Die Fledermaus is top drawer entertainment at every level.  There’s Johann Strauss II’s infectious music that will twirl around in your head for days after, Benoit Dugardyn’s ingenious sets, totally brilliant casting and superb singing and acting by all, and realized in exceedingly good, if not quite flawless video and audio.  Except for a slackening of the suspense in the third act, where Eisenstein is not quite as “caught” as we want, Strauss’ opera is non-stop pleasure.  Smilingly recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 8, 2012

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