Operetta always makes for good entertainment. Works in the musical performance discipline are generally replete with memorable numbers, plenty of onstage action fused with laugh-inducing content, a dose or two of intrigue, and lots to draw the eye.
Die Fledermaus (The Bat) has all the above attributes, and then some. The next local renditions of the timeless work by Johann Strauss will take place January 29 to February 2, in Haifa, Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion and Beersheba under the experienced aegis of long-time Vienna resident, American conductor David Aronson, and stage director Rosemarie Danziger.
They will be joined on stage by members of the Vienna-Tel Aviv Vocal Connection Singers featuring a slew of feted Austrian or Viennese-based soloists, including tenors Alexander Kravets and Martin Mairinger, baritone Peter Edelmann, soprano Eugenia Dushina and Israeli counterpart Sivan Keren.
The voluminous production personnel list also takes in the Acapella Singers of Jerusalem and Shahar Choir of Rehovot, under the guidance of Judi Axelrod and Gila Brill respectively, and a couple of ballet dancers, with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) providing the instrumental substratum. The list just goes on and on, with an acrobat, actor and tap dancer also in the mix, as well as five youngsters from the Jerusalem English Theater Community.
All sorts of shenanigans
I caught up with Aronson and Danziger during a brief break between rehearsals at the Jerusalem Theatre, where some of the vocalists were being put through their paces. “We are working them very hard,” Danziger laughs. Presumably, I suggest, that meant she and Aronson were also putting in a shift or two. “You could say that,” the Danish-born Israeli-bred director concurs. “But we are enjoying it,” she adds.
The audience should also get a lot out of the staged end product, which is based on an improbable comedy of errors narrative. There are all sorts of shenanigans going on in the Karl Haffner-Richard Genée libretto, with all the requisite components of a farce turned up to the proverbial amplifier 11 level. Illicit love, betrayal, assumed and mistaken identities, broken promises, sardonic humor, and a fair bit of alcohol consumption are all in there, to keep the audience engaged, entranced, bemused and laughing.
In view of the plot of the work, which premiered in Vienna in 1874, and the jovial and mischievous spirit that runs through much of the text, I wondered just how much fun Aronson and Danziger were having in the run-up.
“That’s what you see as a result, but it’s a huge undertaking,” says the stage director. “Rosie’s responsibilities are ten times mine,” Aronson adds with great humility. After all, he “only” has to make sure the close to 60 instrumentalists and nine vocal soloists know when and how to do their thing. All in a good entertaining cause.
“It should sound at the end like it’s fun,” Aronson chips in, “and it is fun, at the end, when everything has been rehearsed and the musicians know what they should be doing.”
That is far easier said than done, particularly with a venture of the magnitude and complexity of the current presentation of Die Fledermaus. Aronson says that is par for the demanding genre course.
“In opera, especially operetta, it is more difficult than with a symphony. Today I sweated blood,” he confesses with a wry smile. “There are so many tempo changes in this part, and the next part’s fast, the next part’s slow, watch here because I have to wait for the singer.”
Sounds like something between a tightrope walk and a tiptoe through a minefield. Still, the septuagenarian conductor and singing coach has been around the performance block a couple of hundred times over the years. “It’s what I’m used to, so you just do it,” he states.
Aronson comes across as a genial character who is more than happy to step out of the spotlight and apportion credit where it is due. “The orchestra, I must say, has been phenomenal. They are so friendly and concentrated. They didn’t make my life difficult,” he chuckles.
IN TRUTH, there is a lot to handle, for everyone involved, as the performance unfurls. The numbers are in German, with some English patter betwixt, and Hebrew and Russian surtitles keeping the patrons abreast of developments. And, just to keep the performers and audience members on their toes, the Austrian vocalists will slip in some Hebrew phrases.
I got a firsthand impression of how that works when I briefly attended a run-through with a couple of the vocalists, with an accompanying pianist, and Aronson and Danziger supervising. I must say they managed that pretty convincingly, with not a trace of an extraneous accent.
Danziger says there will be quite a few unexpected junctures as the performance progresses, although she wasn’t about to let me in on the deal. “I don’t want to spoil anything,” she smiles, adding she has good reason to believe he is on the right track.
“We brought some of the soloists to a dress rehearsal. We did the dialogue so that they will know where they are, and they were laughing in all the right places. I thought thank goodness, it looks like it’s working.”
Then again we are not exactly talking about reinventing the wheel. “There are different versions of the spoken parts,” Danziger explains. “If you listen to recordings [of Die Fledermaus] you hear a lot of variations. I actually based my speaking parts on an English version from [London opera house] Covent Garden.”
That is also designed to make the production as contemporary as possible and to provide the viewers with familiar hooks to draw them even deeper into the libretto. “In the jail scene, with [the character of] Frosch, the jailer, they usually use a famous comedian. In Vienna, it is specifically called kleinkunst (cabaret-type theater) artist, who brings in current politics and so on.” With the trying political dynamics in full flow here, I wondered whether that would be a good idea. “We don’t get too much into that,” Danziger reassures me.
Kravets gets to strut his comedic bent, in addition to his musical gifts, as Frosch. “He is a spieltenor, a character tenor. He is hilarious,” says the director. “He is coming here from [storied Milan opera house] La Scala and from here he’s going to Covent Garden.”
Danziger says Kravets is crucial to the whole exercise. “Many times the person in that role is more an actor than a singer, but Alexander is a very good singer. For me, it’s a measuring stick of your whole cast.” Kravets also has a second role in the production, as the hapless lawyer Blind.
Danziger says more surprises, including jaw-dropping props, are in store for us. With a definitively hummable overture, and numerous alluring musical passages, a good time is assured for one and all with one of the operatic world’s all-time favorites.
For tickets and more information: *3221 and bravo.ticketsnow.co.il/announce/73023