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Saturday,  Sep 23,2017,00:13 (GMT+7)

Die Fledermaus in Saigon

Bradley Winterton
Tuesday,  Aug 22,2017,23:00 (GMT+7)
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Die Fledermaus in Saigon

Bradley Winterton

Last weekend saw two performances by HBSO of the German-language operetta Die Fledermaus. First performed in 1874, it was written by Johann Strauss II, a master of waltzes and what was then popular music. Die Fledermaus, with its swinging melodies and subtle rhythms, is the most frequently revived operetta worldwide on August 22.

This was the second operetta staged in the Saigon Opera House recently. Last year saw Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, directed by the theater-director Tay Phong, and comparisons between the two are inevitable. By and large I found it impossible to say which was the better. Both had similar virtues – the strong presence of the chorus, combinations of lively singing and not always quite so accomplished acting, and above all a very impressive contribution indeed from the orchestra.

The two performances had different conductors. Saturday’s premier was conducted by Germany’s Askan Geisler, while at Sunday’s performance Vietnam’s Tran Nhat Minh was in charge. Both times I sat so that I could almost touch the instrumentalists’ music, but I can’t say I detected any differences. Both times the playing was outstanding.

We also heard two different pairs of female leads. On Saturday Rosalinde was sung by soprano Cho Hae Ryong and her maid Adele, even more important dramatically, by Pham Khanh Ngoc. On Sunday the two roles were taken by Pham Duyen Huyen and Nguyen Thu Huong. All four excelled themselves with some outstanding singing.

There is a slight imbalance in the way this operetta is written. It’s in three acts, but the strongest impression is always made by the middle one, a high-society ball. And so it was in Saigon. There was little scenery, but its place was taken by the resplendent costumes of fashion-designer Quynh Paris. The chorus and some dancers swirled in the ever-changing lights (the lighting, by director David Herman and Nguyen Phuc Hai, was one of the show’s great strengths), and the progress from evening to morning, as well as from sobriety to drunkenness, was admirably accomplished.

The director and performers, consequently, have to struggle to make the last act, which takes place in the office of the local prison governor, have a similar amount of color and energy. This task was well accomplished, with a large number of subsidiary performers coming in and eventually overflowing the drab offices. The work ended with a magnificent set-piece in which just about all the performers were present.

The male singers equaled their female counterparts. Phan Huu Trung Kiet was an over-the-top Eisenstein, Dao Mac a sturdy Dr. Falke and Pham Trang a lyrical Alfred. Nguyen Hoang Nhat Quang, Tran Thanh Nam, Vu Minh Tri and Thai Kim Tung took the other parts with aplomb.

It should be noted that director David Hermann and costume designer Quynh Paris occupied the same roles in Mozart’s  Die Zauberflote (‘The Magic Flute’), so something of a working collaboration, very welcome, is clearly evolving.

Congratulations, then, to the HCMC Ballet, Symphony and Opera for pulling off another popular success. The two performances were the opening offerings of the Autumn Melodies 2017 Festival which runs until August 27.

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