Strauß II: Zigeunerbaron
It’s always nice to take an afternoon out in Baden, which I combined today with Zigeunerbaron by Johann Strauß II at the Stadttheater.
The Bühne Baden, as the local company styles itself, mostly entertains people taking their cure in the spa town, and many of their productions are just for fun rather than for any particular acclaim. Sebastian Reinthaller, for many years a leading comic tenor at the Volksoper, spent three years as the artistic director here, and still comes out to sing. His voice sounded a tad tired this evening, but that meant he did not overpower the other members of the perfectly adequate if not particularly distinguished cast. I did get the feel that this performance, in the middle of their six-week run, did not make them especially enthusiastic – mostly going through the motions. One motion they unfortunately did not go through was to affect the requisite Hungarian accents (perhaps the most charming foreign accent in German and an essential element to a number of classic comic operettas with Hungarian characters).
The staging was neither here nor there. The co-directors provided an essay in the program to explain how they went about dealing with the historical inaccuracies and elements that are not politically-correct in 2018. But Strauß meant it as a fictional comedy and was not trying for historical accuracy, and the non-politically-correct elements were in general not critical and anyway to be taken in the context of a period piece (1880s). I am not sure the changes they made to the plot (including some alterations of the music) even improved anything anyway. But they could all be safely ignored to just listen to the music. Franz Josef Breznik beat time in the pit, and there was a certain local Austrian lilt to the playing as could be expected given where we are.
In all, the performance accomplished its goal as an evening’s fun entertainment.
Lehár, Graf von Luxemburg
I had never actually ever been inside the Stadttheater in Baden (visible across the square from my father’s childhood bedroom). So I used that as an excuse to go out to Baden this afternoon and take in the evening performance of the Graf von Luxemburg by Ferenc Lehár by the team from Bühne Baden (when I have seen them before, it has only been in the Sommerarena in the Kurpark). It’s a provincial theater of no great importance (Max Reinhardt, born in Baden, had his first theatrical experiences here… albeit in an earlier theater building), but runs a full season to entertain those coming to the town for their cure.
The opera itself is simply a venue for some wonderful music Lehár threw together in about three weeks. The plot is a rather simple farce, with even less development than usual, which mostly serves as a venue for the tunes. In that respect, tonight’s performance did not disappoint. The perfectly acceptable cast (several of whom I have heard at the Volksoper) performed idiomatically, led by Mehrzad Montazeri in the title role. Oliver Ostermann kept beat, more or less, in the pit – but at least it was light and fun if not always lilting at the right time.
The staging added nothing. The chorus and extras were distracting – the plot is already silly, but making it sillier does not help it along. The setting was updated from its 1909 premiere (actually the same year this theater’s current building opened) to the 1920s, which did not help nor necessarily hurt. However, it did make me appreciate more the only other version of this opera I have seen live, a production at the Volksoper in 2005, where a clever director kept all of the music and much of the dialogue but elaborated on the whole plot in order to make a substantial, sensible, and uproariously funny new version that Lehár himself would have approved of (as it was, Lehár never really thought this operetta worked despite his music – and unfortunately the Baden performance tonight simply verified Lehár’s own assessment even as everyone left the theater humming the tunes).
Offenbach, Die Schöne Helena
Went out to Baden this evening to see a performance by the Bühne Baden of Offenbach’s Schöne Helena in the Baden Sommerarena in the Kurpark. Simple performance, relatively true to the original.
Offenbach is notoriously hard to stage, because many of the jokes in the text were dated already soon after the premieres, dealing as they did with political intrigue and current events, and required constant updating. Since tonight’s performance was in German, the text needed a reworking anyway. Rather than try to adapt to current events, where the jokes might fall flat, the production stuck to a more-or-less basic translation of the farcical setting of the “real” cause of the Trojan War. Naturally, a few jokes at the expense of Greece’s current financial woes crept in, but these came in elliptically and not directly.
This opera has great music right the way through – Offenbach’s greatest triumph, in my opinion. They modified bits of it and added the Can-can from Offenbach’s Orpheus, but most of the cuts came to the otherwise dated dialogue. Elisabeth Fleichl and Sebastian Reinthaller, from the Volksoper Ensemble, starred as Helen and Paris; Michael Zehetnerkept things light in the pit.