Vienna Opera and Theater

This review aired on KBAQ October 25, 2012


Vienna Theater and Opera

After a week of London theater, I was anxious to experience what Vienna theater and opera offered.  The city remains one of Europe’s richest cultural capitals and classical performing arts are more popular so two nights at the Wiener Staatsoper with traditional Verdi operas, “Don Carlo” and “I Vespri Siciliani,” plus a Broadway-style musical, “Elisabeth,” were the picks.  “Don Carlo” was a wonderful repertory production with fine singers in a traditionally staged production.  “I Vespri Siciliani” was weakly staged with mediocre singers.  The production needs to be replaced with a well conceived new production.  “Elisabeth” was a nicely produced work that patterned itself after a glitzy Broadway or London musical.  The story, though, is not universal, focusing on an Austrian historical figure and situation that proved bland and uninteresting to this non-Austrian.

Like most major opera houses, the two productions showed the best and the worst of the Wiener Staatsoper.  The “Don Carlo” was certainly nothing special from the very staid staging and the tradition bound sets and costumes but the singers were major opera talents.  The audience applauded vociferously throughout the performance and during the curtain calls.  The magnificent orchestra overflowed the pit and they were tremendous.  Giuseppe Gipali was a first-rate Don Carlo, Simon Keenlyside a stalwart Rodrigo, and Krassimira Stoyanova a stirring Elisabetta in this impressive production.  The same praise cannot be placed on the stodgy “I Vespri Siciliani” that boasted neither the exquisite singers nor an interesting production.  One also has to comment on the Wiener Staatsoper theater.  The original was a World War II casualty but it has been brilliantly re-created and is an acoustical gem.

“Elisabeth” at the Raimund Theater was hard to differentiate from a glitzy Broadway musical.  Production values were tops, the sound, orchestra, cast, and production were equal to Broadway.  Elisabeth was played by Austrian musical theater star Annemieke Van Dam who could top line any Broadway musical as her powerful singing and convincing acting ranked with what we expect on the Great White Way.  The story played better for Viennese theatergoers because the central character was based on an historic icon known by many in the audience.  The show was presented in German, but unlike an opera production, the program’s plot summary wasn’t well written or translated so non-Austrian’s were lost in the story that appeared well known to local audiences.

As a theater and opera lover, seeing productions in world cities allows me to compare productions to what American theatergoers expect.  Based on my experiences, Viennese theatergoers have similar cultural riches to Americans.  It was a treat to see theater and opera in Vienna.