Friday, June 5, 2015

A review of Schellenberger's Bettelstudent

The review is anonymous -- from 2013. I am glad I now know who to blame for the wacky costumes. Something in period would surely have been better. What WAS the point of making the leading ladies look like beetles? -- JR

Dagmar Schellenberger must have felt tremendous relief following the premiere of Der Bettelstudent at this year’s Mörbisch Lake Festival. In her first year as the festival’s Intendantin, she was facing more than the usual pressures. Her predecessor was the enormously popular operetta star Harald Serafin, who had been in charge at Mörbisch for two decades, and who had been forced into retirement against his will (presumably because of mandatory age limits). He and his devoted fans were just waiting for Schellenberger to make a misstep.

On top of that, the soprano is a German now at the helm of one of Austria’s most popular summer festivals, and the old rivalries between the two countries still crop up from time to time. In any case, those hoping to see her fall flat on her face must have been sorely disappointed, as this year’s event proved to be a resounding success.

There was marvelous singing from the two tenors Gert Henning Jensen and Mirko Roschkowski as the Polish patriot, Count Opalinski, who had disguised himself as the student Jan Janicki, and his friend, Symon, the beggar student of the title.

With his imposing height and clear, radiant timbre, Jensen was ideal as the youthful adventurer who easily won the heart of Daniela Kalin’s charming Bronislava.

Roschkowski’s warmer, mellower instrument offered the necessary contrast to Jensen’s voice and was well-suited to the daydreamer who finds himself inadvertently caught up in a tangle of events.

Henryk Böhm made the ranting and raving Colonel Ollendorf the comedic center of the show, backed by an attractively singing quintet of his officers and Olaf Plassa as the jailer, Enterich.

Cornelia Zink sang Laura with a glowing, innocent soprano.

On the podium of the festival orchestra, conductor Uwe Theimer supplied plenty of lilting mazurka rhythms in the crowd scenes, but also took the time to highlight the score’s lyrical beauty.

This attention to detail was made possible by the new orchestra hall located behind the seating area, from which their music was fed to the stage area in an arrangement similar to that used at Austria’s other major lake festival at Bregenz.

Director Ralf Nürnberger’s wacky staging was matched by Susanne Thomasberger’s over-the-top costumes with towering wigs and enormous, ballooning hoopskirts.

In contrast, Yadegar Asisi’s unpretentious sets featured a simple city wall that blocked the lake view, and gigantic cabinet-like elements that stage workers opened up to reveal the buildings of Krakow.

Frau Schellenberger’s plans for the 2014 Lake Festival include performances of Anatevka (i.e., Fiddler on the Roof), as well as Mörbisch’s first-ever children’s music theater work composed specifically for the festival, to be performed in the new 300-seat purpose-built facility.


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