19 February 2007

the old bat

I have a theory, based mostly on ignorance and prejudice, to explain why I love Gilbert and Sullivan but dislike Viennese operetta: the insouciant sadism and Lewis-Carroll logic of G&S satirize society whereas operetta ends up applauding the audience’s conventional lives. (I’m not hugely familiar with Offenbach outside of the Tales of Hoffman, but he seems more in the G&S line.) A few years ago I had not much enjoyed watching The Merry Widow slowly dragging its elephantine art-nouveau ass across the War Memorial Stage. (And yet an incredible roster of great artists have sung in it – maybe it’s fun to wear the hats?) So I was extremely worried about the Gockley future when his major change to this past season was to add Die Fledermaus, which I have dodged for several decades of opera-going.

I also have a theory that when something is described as “delightful” or “frothy” I am probably not going to like it much. I will happily say that I was amused that the artist friend who tries to seduce Rosalinde made every entrance by climbing through a window rather than going to the front door, and that he was dressed in the broad-brimmed black hat and red scarf that Lautrec gave to Aristide Bruant. (Alfred is the character’s name – I had to look the name up in the synopsis, because the plot, based mostly on revenge for some silly frat-style prank, has slipped away from me completely. If I’m seeing a revenge play, I want the dead bodies to be on stage, not in the audience.) But of course in something like this the artist is going to be a silly, affected fellow (I do not think this is comparable to G&S’s Patience, which is mocking a specific intensely aesthetic movement and its underlying sexual assumptions – also, to continue my totally unsubstantiated theorizing, I’m guessing Patience is one of the least revived of the G&S shows, not quite in Utopia Ltd territory but close enough.)

Looking at the playbill I’m reminded that Jennifer Welch-Babidge was funny and charming as the servant girl, and since I had first seen her in Candide at the Symphony a few years ago, I spent most of the evening wishing I were watching that vastly superior work. And Christine Goerke as Rosalind – fabulous! She was funny and sang beautifully and managed to be knowing towards her servant and husband without coming off as a condescending, which is actually pretty difficult to do, especially when you’re playing a woman in a big house who has servants. All the performers were at a high level and the orchestras was sparkling, but can I just confess that after a while all those tunes sound the same to me? (Though G&S have similar songs in their operas, all the music within each opera has never blurred in my mind during performance the way Fledermaus did.)

Champagne always gives me killer headaches anyway, though a lot of people love it. Same with this, I guess, though I found the total effect somewhat like being clubbed to death with meringues. The staging, the singers, and the orchestra were all excellent, for which I was truly grateful, since I can now feel that I have seen a top-notch production of Fledermaus, that I still disliked it, and therefore I need have no guilt about wanting never to see it again.

2 comments:

sfmike said...

I can't stand the operetta either, though last year's production was a total surprise because it was so well done. I give most of the credit to the old baritone, Wolfgang Brendel, who used to be the Nathan Gunn style barihunk back in the late 1970s, and who still knows how to dominate a stage.

Still, I didn't stay for the Third Act, because that jailhouse German humor schtick is just awful, no matter how well it's done.

pjwv said...

Thanks for the info on Wolgang Brendel -- I wasn't familiar with him so he didn't stick in my mind the way the women did, since I had heard them before. I did like him a lot, as in "I'd love to see him in something else instead of this."

The Third Act started with the jailer doing shtick about Martha Stewart's jail term, among other out-of-date jokes. It was then that I checked my watch -- the Third Act didn't start until 10:30. Yipes. I can accept that from Wagner, but not J. Strauss.