JOHANN STRAUSS II: Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Blu-ray (2008)

by | May 30, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

JOHANN STRAUSS II:  Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Blu-ray (2008)

Starring: Thomas Allen, Pamela Armstrong, Par Lindskog, Lyubov Petrova, Ragnar Ulfung, Hakan Hagegard, Artur Korn, Malena Ernman, Udo Samel, Renee Schuttengruber; The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski with the Glyndebourne Chorus
Director: Stephen Lawless
Studio: Opus Arte [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 widescreen, 1080p HD
Audio: Uncompressed PCM 5.0, PCM Stereo
Extras: Cast Gallery, Costume Gallery, Interviews, Featurettes
Subtitles: English, French, Dutch, Spanish
Length: 198 minutes
Rating: ****1/2

Strauss’ comic operetta Die Fledermaus is by all regards a classic of light opera and his undisputed masterpiece. And while early on there were many opera purists who looked down upon operettas when compared to more serious works, none other than Gustav Mahler conducted performances at the Hamburg Opera in 1894 and staunchly defended its place in the repertory. At the Vienna Opera, in 1899, when Mahler’s choice of tenors for the role of Eisenstein complained that the part was “beneath his dignity,” Mahler again strongly rebuffed this criticism and proclaimed the superiority of Strauss’ masterwork to all other contenders of the genre.

The action takes place in a small town outside of Vienna. Alfred (Par Lindskog), a particularly gifted tenor, is strolling down the street singing a hopeful song about reuniting with a lost love. The sound of Alfred’s voice can be heard inside the home of Gabriel and Rosalinde Eisenstein, where Rosalinde’s handmaiden, Adele (sung by Lyubov Petrova) has been informed by her sister of a big bash at the home of Prince Orlofsky (Malena Ernman).  Adele’s scheming to somehow find a way to attend this party is interrupted by Alfred’s serenade, and she shoos him away from the window. Rosalinde (Pamela Armstrong) appears, and quashes any possibility of Adele getting the night off. Alfred’s serenade continues, and we soon come to realize that Rosalinde is the object of Alfred’s affections.

Rosalinde’s husband, Gabriel Eisenstein (sung by Thomas Allen), is in court, about to be sentenced to five days in jail for some indiscretion. Alfred is aware of Rosalinde’s husband’s precarious legal situation, and propositions her for a liaison to rekindle the old flame while hubby’s in the big house. Eisenstein and his lawyer (Ragnar Ulfung) appear as Alfred scurries away, and it becomes apparent that Eisentein’s uncontrolled outbursts in court have caused the judge to extend his jail sentence from five to eight days, and he is to turn himself in that evening. The lawyer departs, and Eisenstein’s friend, Dr. Falke (sung superbly by Hakan Hagegard), arrives. Dr. Falke also happens to be treating Prince Orlofsky for “pathological boredom,” a condition brought on by his excessive wealth and over-indulgences. He recommends to Eisenstein that he skip turning himself in and attend the big party at Prince Orlorfsky’s villa, then suffer the consequences. They depart, Rosalinde and Alfred reappear, and just as they’re about to consummate their long-lost relationship, the jailer shows up to take Eisenstein to prison, and mistakenly arrests Alfred. All parties henceforth refine their schemes regarding attendance of Orlofsky’s big bash.

The party is all wine, women and song, with plenty of dancing and merrymaking. At some point, Dr. Falke, who appears to be playing the devil’s advocate to all involved personas, imparts the story of a costume party he and Eisenstein attended, where he (Dr. Falke) was dressed as a bat. They drank the night away until daylight, when a drunken Falke was forced to walk home in broad daylight in his bat’s costume to the entire town’s ridicule. Almost everyone attending Orlofsky’s dazzling affair is in the process of trying to hoodwink someone else, and the deceptions carry on all night until morning, when the jailer’s mistake is discovered, and all is resolved at last.

In terms of entertainment value, this new Blu-ray disc from Opus Atre is beyond brilliant. The entire cast is nothing short of superb, and Vladimir Jurowski, the London Philharmonic and all at Glyndebourne offer a magnificently realized production of Die Fledermaus. At the operetta’s introduction, as the overture is playing, the first stroke of true genius is offered; rather than just the usual shots of the conductor and orchestra, we’re given vignettes of rehearsals for the opera and are introduced to the characters via subtitles. This presentation is not only effective, but truly enjoyable, and a real behind the scenes treat to see the performers in street clothes blocking out their respective scenes. The set construction is also ingenious, especially when the action moves to Orlofsky’s party, where the set rotates continuously, and you get to see all the performers from their various perspectives, including servants, etc. The real stars here are the singers, who offer brilliantly comedic performances, and the audience responds with thunderous applause throughout!

I thought my last encounter with Opus Arte, the fabulous Magic Flute Blu-ray disc, was the best I’d ever seen, but I have to qualify that now: this Blu-ray disc is darn near reference quality in all respects, and blows away any previous competition in this repertory. The clarity of image and color presentation are uniformly superb, with a small caveat; in a couple of places, the image quality goes inexplicably flat for just the briefest moment. I tried replaying the disc and encountered the same problems at the same places, so I don’t think it was just a glitch in the playback. This is the only thing keeping this disc from getting 5 stars. One welcome surprise is that this disc is undoubtedly the fastest loading 50 GB Blu-ray disc in my collection, bar none! Would that they all worked this seamlessly. The audio content is fantastic as well, and even though the disc only offers 5.0 surround [as with most multichannel SACDs…Ed.], all the orchestral climaxes came through with oomph to spare, and you get a great sense of the acoustic of the Glyndebourne opera house. Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs

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