MUNICH: My Fair Lady
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In Review > International

My Fair Lady

MUNICH
Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz
2/13/18

In Review Munich Fair Lady hdl 518
Charming presence: Maximilian Mayer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady at the Gärtnerplatz
© Marie-Laure Briane

IN STAATSTHEATER AM GÄRTNERPLATZ'S stunning new production of My Fair Lady (seen Feb. 13), the cockney dialect used by Eliza Doolittle and Alfred P. Doolittle was replaced by Bavarian dialect, a genial solution for the city of Munich, the proud capital of Bavaria. The one disadvantage, which was continuously evident, is that Bavarian does not lend itself to rapidity, either in singing or in dialogue. In spite of the dialect’s natural charm, large sections of the text remained inscrutable, even to native Bavarians. In addition, as all three leading roles in this My Fair Lady were cast with Austrian artists, the specifically Bavarian tone tended to migrate in the general direction of Vienna. This being said, the contrast between the High German used by Higgins and Colonel Pickering and the Low Bavarian used by Eliza and Doolittle was as striking and humorous as the original “Oxford English” versus cockney. Josef E. Köpplinger’s production was a masterpiece of timing and tempo, perfectly suited to this musical-theater masterpiece. The costumes of Marie-Luise Walek were exquisite: the black/white/gray of the Ascot scene was topped by Eliza’s staggeringly large hat, and the costumes for the rest of the production matched exactly the work’s time. A revolving stage made scene changes fluid, and Rainer Sinell’s sets caught the London of 1912 wonderfully. Karl Alfred Schreiner’s choreography was apt and invigorating.

The cast was a mix of actors who can sing and singers who can act. Michael Dangl, a longtime leading actor at Vienna’s famous Theater in der Josefstadt, was a suave Henry Higgins who delivered his songs convincingly and was actually capable of humility toward the end of the work. In fact, and this is to director Köpplinger’s credit, the work’s final line, re-establishing Higgins’s absolute superiority, though left unchanged, was effectively modified by both look and body language. Here, Eliza ascended the stairway toward her old room full of self-confidence, while Higgins, obviously totally smitten with her and having forgotten about his slippers, followed Eliza with his eyes while kneeling longingly on his couch. 

Despite her tour-de-force acting, Nadine Zeintl’s soubrette soprano is not ideal for Eliza, its lack of power in the middle range causing her to force unnaturally, creating an audible register break. Eliza is a role that demands a solid “belt” in several numbers, which the Austrian actress simply does not possess. Robert Meyer, distinguished veteran of Vienna’s Burgtheater and at present the intendant of Vienna’s Volksoper, was a cyclonic Alfred P. Doolittle, singing and dancing up a storm in his two big showstoppers. 

The best singing of the evening came from tenor Maximilian Mayer as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Mayer can charm with his stage presence alone, but it was his exquisite voice that filled the hall with such luxurious sound; one was sorry his role was not larger. Friedrich von Thun, a well-known Austrian film and television actor, added his expertise as Pickering, although one might have expected a more resonant speaking voice from such an experienced actor. 

In a marvelous gesture, the fabulous Cornelia Froboess, the original Eliza of August Everding’s legendary 1984 staging of My Fair Lady at the Gärtnerplatz, was invited back to play Mrs. Higgins, which she did with great style, much to the pleasure of the Munich public. Conductor Andreas Kowalewitz found the perfect combination of style and precision for the work, even if the enthusiastic orchestra was at times much too loud for his singing actors. —Jeffrey A. Leipsic 



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