Die Fledermaus (The Bat in English) is one of the twenty most often performed operas in the United States, and I sincerely hope most of them are better than the production presented on HD DVD by Opus Arte. Based on a German farce and a French vaudeville play, Die Fledermaus is a broad comedy with all kinds of mistaken identities and sexual innuendos. By itself, the story isn't much to shout about. But the piece has become a mainstay due to the inspired compositions by Johan Strauss II.
Strauss was famous in Vienna for having revolutionized the waltz. Dubbed "The Waltz King," he had far more success with individual compositions (such as the world famous "Blue Danube") than he ever did with opera or operettas. Die Fledermaus was easily the most popular of all of his longer works, and contained many memorable tunes. Its enduring popularity even today proves the strength of Strauss' compositional skills.
The libretto is less interesting. Based on a pair of pre-existing plays, the story tells the tale of a man done wrong, and the extraordinary lengths he goes to get his revenge. It's overly complex, with too many characters, and no sense of forward momentum. Most of the characters act like drunken fools almost all the way through, and just because they're written that way doesn't mean it's enjoyable to watch. In fact, at times, the story actively detracts from the overall quality of the work.
This production plays things as broadly as possible. Several times throughout the performance, the actors break the fourth wall, winking right at the audience in an exaggerated fashion. I don't know if that's the way Die Fledermaus was originally written or performed, but it's distracting and takes you right out of the story. It also doesn't help that each act takes place on one set, with no variety to maintain interest.
The HD DVD:
Opus Arte presents Die Fledermaus in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. The golden colors of the sets lend a sepia tone to the production, bathing the performers in a warm glow. The detail is less than great at times, but in general the warmth gives a pleasing tone to the image.
Opus Arte offers two lossless Dolby True HD mixes, one in 5.1 and the other in 2.0. Both have good fidelity and range, although surround usage is confined to the orchestra. The vocal performances in particular really shine.
While not feature laden, there are a few interesting pieces to be found here. There's a featurette on the creation of the new opera house in which this production was staged, a look at the evolution of the waltz, interviews with the performers and conductor, a costume gallery, and a cast gallery.
Die Fledermaus has some of Johan Strauss II's best compositions, but it's coupled with an overwrought farcical story. This particular production is over the top and ultimately disengaging, although the music is still excellent. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.