|Uneasy lies the head… Act I, scene 1. Photo © Lena Obst|
Zsolt Hamar conducted the orchestra in a reading of the score that was clean, light, and attuned to the singers. Allusions and the theme of the oranges were highlighted; I did occasionally wish for sharper emphasis or shaping, but maybe I was expecting something that the orchestration isn't designed to do. Director Ansgar Weigner, experienced in operetta, created a production that was visually pleasing and musically attuned. (Christof Cremer's costumes gave great help in characterization.) The production's boldest moments were its most successful ones: a send-up of opera clichés via a Freischütz pastiche at the outset found echoes in Tchélio's amateurish summoning. I also particularly liked the touch of having Truffaldino present the Prince with a miniature orange which he finds almost more fascinating than the real thing. Having Fata Morgana exulting over the collective celebration of the self-absorbed prince's coronation was a brilliant way of handling the conclusion, I thought, but I would have liked to see more of this biting commentary in the rest of the production.
The commitment of the chorus to diction and on-stage action that went beyond Aimless Milling was admirable. The ease with which the singers of the ensemble interacted with each other was one of the evening's assets, and musical values were solid. Axel Wagner deserves special praise for giving a comical cook without being excessively campy. Sharon Kempton, as Ninetta, sang with a clear, bright soprano and conveyed effectively her dismay at the less than heroic qualities of the prince. Dennis Wilgenhof's sonorous bass was reminiscent of more serious kings. Annette Luig embraced the flamboyant villainy of Fata Morgana with admirable courage. As the petulant Prince, Martin Homrich was a good sport in offering, scenically and vocally, a parody of tenor posturing. The standout of the evening, I felt, was Erik Biegel as the long-suffering harlequin figure of Truffaldino. With a flexible tenor and a comic physicality reminiscent of Harold Lloyd, Biegel won sympathy and elicited amusement as he coped with three giant oranges and uncountable absurdities.