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Wiener Blut

MUNICH
Cuvilliés Theater | Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz
12/3/14

There can hardly be a more Viennese operetta than Wiener Blut. The circumstances of the work's composition are worth noting: Johann Strauss II was asked in 1899 by impresario Franz Jauner to compose a new operetta. Aging and in ill health, Strauss allowed conductor Alfred Müller to cull through his enormous composed repertoire, selecting and arranging from countless Strauss waltzes, polkas, etc. to create a “new” work. The librettist team of Victor Léon and Leo Stein then devised a text to match both the typically convoluted plot and the many familiar melodies. Strauss did not live to see the failure of world premiere at the Carltheater in Vienna. It was not until 1905 that an enthusiastically received production in Vienna's Theater an der Wien helped cement the success of a work which, thereafter, has well withstood the test of time. Still, it would be more accurate to describe Wiener Blut as an operetta that utilized the music of Johann Strauss II than as a work composed by the Waltz King.

For its new production, seen on December 3 in the tiny rococo Cuvilliés Theater, the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz relied on authenticity of language, first-class singing and a conservative, if at times subtly tongue-in-cheek, production. As nearly the entire cast of singers and actors could be called true citizens of Vienna, the dialect of that city was spoken in a "take no prisoners" mode. It was also spoken at breakneck speed, which made for a fabulous atmosphere. One truly had the feeling that the one was in Vienna and that the clock had been turned back to the end of the nineteenth century. There was, however, one drawback: Viennese is a very special dialect and it took the Munich audience not only by storm but by surprise. In fact, at the outset most of the public understood only a fraction of that which was spoken and only marginally more of what was being sung. Despite any number of humorous situations, there was nary a laugh until after the only intermission (which took place in the middle of the second act) and well-deserved applause after impressive singing, acting or dancing had to wait until the Bavarian public started to relate to plot and language. As the evening moved on, applause became more generous, laughs more frequent and, at the end, the reception was overwhelmingly boisterous and positive. 

The cast could hardly have been better. One wondered how tenor Tilmann Unger would deal with the genre of operetta and the lead role of Count Balduin Zedlau after having moved on to roles like Florestan and Parsifal. One needn't have been concerned. His voice, baritone in nature but with strong, clearly produced top notes, sounded vibrant with nary a moment of insecurity. Tenor Daniel Prohaska once again put all of his many talents on display as the servant Joseph. He sang with gorgeous tone, acted with élan and danced with skill and charm. 

The queen of the evening was Cornelia Horak, who returned in triumph as Countess Gabriele Zedlau to a company in which she had celebrated so many successes in the past. The music seems to flow out of her in a manner so naturally that one listens in rapt amazement. Her voice shows no weakness at all, her sound was flawless, her stage presence sovereign. Jasmina Sakr was a Viennese whirlwind as Pepi Pleininger, Ella Tyran an elegant Franziska Cagliari with pristine voice, veteran Viennese actor Wolfgang Hübsch was a sheer wonder as Franziska's perpetually drunken father Kagler, bass Hans Gröning was a solid, properly confused Prince Ypsheim-Gindelbach and Harald Hofbauer amazed as he portrayed both a lowlife Viennese cabman as well as a sex-demented, elderly Count Bitowski, host of the second act ball. Michael Brandstetter conducted with just the right mixture of verve and sentimentality. Nicole Claudia Weber's production, including her own text adaptations, made no attempt to plum psychological or social depths. She and Marie-Luise Walek (eye-catching fin du siècle costumes), Karl Fehringer/Judith Leykauf (frosting-like Viennese sets) and Cedric Lee Bradley (invigorating choreography) helped guarantee a delightful evening. spacer 

JEFFREY A. LEIPSIC

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