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The Viennese Musical (1)

Thursday, 2 March 2023 , ora 10.13


The Austrian musical, or rather the Viennese musical, is a very special production of a company called Vereinigte Bühnen Wien/ The United Stages of Vienna, which puts on two or three performances a year that excel in professionalism and quality and have come to rival productions of the same kind in London or New York. The company has three stages, at the Theater an der Wien, Raimund Theater and Ronacher Theater. During my short stay in Vienna in early 2023 I didn't have time - and I was sorry! - to see Offenbach's La Périchole/Pericola at Theater an der Wien - I preferred the premiere of Offenbach's Orpheus in Hell at the Volksoper. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed the two performances, new to me, of the musicals Rebecca (Raimund Theater) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Ronacher Theater), both exceptional. Today, about Rebecca.

The authors of the musical Rebecca both come from the German sphere. Michael Kunze (text) and Sylvester Levay (music) have worked successfully together before, as evidenced by their German productions of Elisabeth (1992) and Mozart (1999). The former I haven't seen, the latter I have. Mozart was the first big musical I experienced with delight on the Raimund Theatre stage, where I met again a familiar and admired name, director Harry Kupfer, who was called to give shape and life to a show whose main character, Mozart, is presented as a rock star.

Rebecca had its Viennese premiere in 2006. A tour followed, taking the show to 12 countries where two million people applauded wildly, and the text was translated into 12 languages.

Now Rebecca has returned home and has been given a bit of a makeover. Why? Because the same American director, Francesca Zambello, has returned with this production on a newly renovated and modernised stage and has not shied away from making full use of all that state-of-the-art stage technology has to offer. The show has a depth of depth that is given by transparent curtains, huge sets that can be changed in a matter of seconds, impressive lighting, shadows and video projections and, above all, spectacular pyrotechnic effects. It's no exaggeration to write that at the end, when the Manderley estate is set on fire, the entire stage of the Ronacher Theatre is, effectively, on fire! You feel as if the fire is right next to you and you feel its heat! (Set design Peter J. Davison, video projections S.Katy Tucker, lighting Mark McCullough ) The emotion cannot be described in words. You have to be in the room to really understand and experience it. That's why I give here the information that in Vienna, Rebecca plays almost every day until the end of December 2023. With a full house!

I dare say that the novel written by the English writer Daphne du Maurier in 1938 is familiar to many: some read it in their youth, others have seen the famous 1940 film Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock or the recent Netflix production directed by Ben Wheatley. A romantic journey, full of mystery and ambiguity, with evil characters, that has overcome many obstacles to reach the denouement in which good defeats evil for good.

The story is narrated by the main character who is now called Ich/ Me. The young woman recalls her first meeting in a luxurious hotel in Monte Carlo with Maxim de Winter, a wealthy widower, their love at first sight, their marriage, their honeymoon in Venice and then everything that happened from the first moment she stepped over the threshold of Manderley Castle where she was to live with her husband. Their happiness is overshadowed by the presence of the ex-wife's maid, the dreadful Mrs. Danvers, who won't allow anyone to take her former mistress's place. Ich/Me can hardly bear the constant comparison with the first lady of Winters, a noble, cultured, elegant and particularly beautiful Englishwoman, a comparison that she, a simple American, a former lady-in-waiting for an escaped artist, cannot resist. Mrs. Danvers's intrigues nearly destroy the new marriage, but the sincere love between the two saves the still fragile bond. Desperate, the maid ends up setting fire to the castle and disappearing into the flames herself. In the role of Ich/Me, Dutchwoman Nienke Latten makes her debut on the stage of the Viennese musical. She is a glamorous appearance, intensely living the character's complicated life. Her voice easily copes with the technical difficulties of the score, it is nuanced, expressive, brilliant; the acting is natural and the transformation of the character from a likeable but naive and fragile young girl to a strong and sovereign woman is believable and spectacular.

I was slightly disappointed when Mark Seibert, a performer I have long watched and admired, was not part of the evening's cast. Unfortunately, scenically, Philipp Dietrich is quite far from such a complex portrayal of a Maxim de Winter. He lacks the presence, the charm, the romantic charge that should create an irresistible romantic character, but vocally the score is well handled.

From her first appearance Willemijn Verkaik/Mrs. Danvers dominates the scene. A wiry but ever-strung silhouette like a bow, a black costume that elongates and curves every movement, a voice that oscillates between sonorous sounds and insinuating whispers, Willemijn Verkaik is the ideal image of a villain that mesmerizes the audience. As the actress Van Hopper, Annemarie Lauretta does not hesitate to give the character a slightly caricatured touch, emphasising, with good humour, the differences in mentality and behaviour between the Americans and the English.As Boris Pfeifer, Jack Favell, the admitted lover of the First Lady de Winter, is shameless, obnoxious and impish. At the opposite pole, as a balance between light and dark, Annemieke van Dam performs the character of Beatrice with delicacy, understanding and compassion. A very special role in the dramaturgy of the work is played by the madman Ben, played by Aris Sas in the good tradition of characters of the same category, of genuine romantic origin. I must not forget to mention the spectacular ensemble scenes that take place in the hotel in Monte Carlo or in Manderley Castle (choreography by Simon Eichenberger).

The orchestra of the Vereinigte Bühnen Wien/ United Stages Vienna played impeccably and conductor Peter Biro conducted the performance with assurance, virtuosity and attention to every detail.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Andreea Iulia Ciucă,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu