All barriers were crossed by the Opéra de Lyon’s recent presentation of Strauss’ ‘Eine Nacht in Venedig’. Two performances of the burlesque production, full of outrageous humour, were seen at the Royal Opera House Muscat at the weekend. It was a new collaboration by ROHM, Opéra de Lyon and the Austrian company, Oper Graz, headed by a Danish creative team and performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of Opéra de Lyon with quite an international cast of high calibre singers. Although Johann Strauss II set the drama in eighteenth-century Venice and its world première was in 1883 Berlin, this adaptation was put firmly in a nostalgic Art Deco interpretation of a sloping Piazza San Marco of the 1960s, with two stylised bridges over make-believe canals. It was written and sung with spoken dialogue in German — and here a challenge to non-German speakers was the constant need to read the translation rather than focus on the action on stage. The score was dripping with lush Viennese Waltzes and Polkas performed by a French company in a caricatured depiction of a definitively Italian setting! The music was conducted by the brilliant, versatile thirty-five -year-old Italian, Daniele Rustioni, the new principal conductor of the Opéra de Lyon while the libretto was rewritten with surreal invention by the Danish Director and musician, Peter Langdal.
Audiences were transported to a fantasy Carnival of Venice, dreamed up in English set-designer, Ashley Martin-Davies’ vivid imagination with bright colours in geometrical patterns of cartoon exaggeration. The costumes were a brilliant parody in commedia dell’arte fashion of pierrôts and Harlequins, sailors and gangsters, and Sophia Loren look-alikes, by Danish Costume Designer, Karin Betz. The show is a bizarre farce, too complicated to explain except to say there is a tangled web of gondoliers, old senators with ambitious wives, a fickle Duke, a Neapolitan spaghetti-chef and a clutch of pretty young ladies. There was identity swapping using cool sunglasses for masks, and Barbara has not one but two doubles. ‘This funny mixture of play, singing and dance’ comprised the 53-strong members of the Orchestra in the pit, a troupe of thirty-eight members of the Chorus of the Opéra de Lyon, in addition to the soloists, eight dancers and a superb acrobat, Xavier Kim, who appeared throughout the show, all synchronised in precise timing to effect the comedy at its best. The contemporary dance routines, entirely in high heels by the ladies, were meticulously directed by Danish choreographer, Peter Friis without missing a beat.
The Operetta begun with a mimed overture and a glimpse into a hotel bedroom of the Duke of Urbino, a startlingly handsome dilettante, played by the renowned fifty-two-year-old German tenor, Lothar Odinius, in the guise of the German designer, Karl Lagerfeld with his blond ponytail and Noel Coward-styled striped satin pyjamas.
An octet of waiters and chambermaids swept and Hoovered, massaged and danced their way through the slanting set in contemporary parody. The audience began to chuckle and didn’t stop until the final curtain.
Old Senator Delacqua was sung by the Polish bass, Piotr Micinski with amazing deftness considering his 60 years, while his beautiful wife Barbara was in love with his nephew Enrico, and being pursued by the Duke, ‘a notorious womaniser’. Muscateers who attended the Lunch Music recital in the Galleria last Saturday were lucky enough to witness the chemistry which ignites the English soprano, Caroline MacPhie as Barbara, and German baritone, Bonko Karadjov. Their first ‘Love Song’ duet in Act III was enchantingly sung in a first-floor Box as balcony, followed later by their hilarious ‘Schwipps-Lied’ spoof (Reason Men Pull Away), dancing and twirling with a huge inflatable pink swan!
American tenor, Jeffrey Treganza, made a perfect slapstick Pappacoda, the tall, lanky spaghetti-cook in his stripey Neapolitan pants, complete with giant pepper-grinder as prop, as he opened Act 1 with the fast patter-song, ‘Ihr Venetianer’. His fiancée was Delacqua’s cook, Ciboletta, but he was jealous at Duc Guido’s advances on her, and also not beyond flirting with other girls himself. Ciboletta was coquettish and cunning, beautiful and coy, sung delightfully by the critically acclaimed young German soprano, Mirella Hagen.
The lead singers of the evening were everyone’s darlings: Austrian tenor, Bernhard Berchtold as the Duke’s barber and assistant to his amorous adventures, Caramello, was agile in voice and body, cutting a fine philandering figure opposite his smart and seductive fishmonger fiancée, Annina. Sung superbly by the brilliant young Hungarian-Slovakian soprano, Mária Celeng, she entranced and delighted every time she appeared on stage after her beautiful opening aria, “Frutti di Mare”, soaring to her top register while juggling fresh fish! In “Annina! Caramello!” they spar deliciously in a lively domestic tiff.
Act Three rejoiced in front of a full moon projection with suspended gondolas as a burlesque backdrop, while the forlorn lovers, Caramello and Papagoda, sat on the front of the stage, obliviously fishing from the orchestra pit — a clever touch to enhance the opera buffa effect.
The beguiling star who burned brightly all evening and achieved a massive applause at the end in his pink designer suit was Lothar Odinius who sung such moving, warm arias throughout the operetta. The opening praise to Venice, “Ach, Wie so herrlich zu Schauen” and his later Barcarolle, or the hilarious patter-Trio with Annina and Ciboletta in Act II, “Ninana.”
The ending was predictably happy; everyone got married except the Duke who ended up back in his hotel bed where he started — was it all a dream? The cyclic nature of the drama gave a satisfying conclusion to this ‘Night in Venice’, full of twists and surprises, and the only question left was — when will Muscat experience its next light-opera performance?
Story by Georgina Benison
Photos by Khalid al Busaidi