Anglification and Modernization in Opera

Last night, my wife and I went out to see Die Fledermaus at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. It was a Christmas present from her that I looked forward to for four long months. Before the opera, we had dinner at Affare, a German place down the road a couple blocks from the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, where the opera was shown. Dinner was a Prix Fixe special that came with the tickets and was very good, but this is irrelevant to the show.

ImageThe opera, written by Johann Strauss II with Carl Haffner and Richard Genee, premiered in Vienna on April 5, 1874. Originally, the opera was written in German, which is (sort of) the native language in Austria, however, the performance we saw had been entirely translated into English. A number of operas have been translated into English from their original language, and I am always dubious of this when I’m paying a good deal more than the price of a movie ticket to see and hear. Yet, of the three operas we’ve seen since moving to Kansas, all have been in English and all have ‘worked’ well. I used to have a much more conservative view about companies taking this sort of license, but I’ve since softened to the idea as I’ve seen it done well a number of times now.  I am especially lenient for operas that were originally intended for a common / broad audiences and were written in the native tongue of the locals with the intent of being understood.

Die Fledermaus was set in exactly the same setting that it was written for, however, I must admit that modernization is another thing that makes me wince. Still, I have seen operas brought forward in time – I’m thinking of one in particular – that blew me away. The one I remember was a 1920s adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro put on by Opera Delaware sometime around the late 1990s. If I remember correctly, it was sung in French (so I’m OK there), but the set was much more reminiscent of The Great Gatsby than the original opera in the 1790s.

In terms of performance, both my wife and I found the first act to be the strongest and most entertaining as we were introduced to the principle characters and their relationships take form. In our performance, Anna Christy played Adele, the chambermaid of the Eisensteins, who stole the show (just as the role was intended to do – like Cherubino in Figaro or Papageno in The Magic Flute).  The second and third acts were important for the story and also well performed, but not as simply entertaining as the first.

I’m looking forward to seeing more next season and expect good things. Whether they be in translated into English or not.



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