There was a very successful and hilarious play in London a few years back by Michael Frayn, one of England’s leading playwrights. Noises Off, a play within a play, followed a company of actors presenting a show that turned out to be a disaster where everything went wrong. The action took place on the stage set, but we saw what was happening backstage as well. OperaZuid’s Der Schauspieldirektor was a bit like that. It told the story of a director putting together a production of an undisclosed Mozart opera, rehearsing and auditioning singers. The similarity is that both were comedies, the difference was that Noises Off was clever and very funny, Der Schauspieldirektor was neither.
It was billed as an opera starring Sir Thomas Allen, in his day one of the world’s leading baritones and a stalwart of Covent Garden, so we had high hopes. As it turned out, Der Schauspieldirektor was not an opera at all but a play, and not a very good one, which included some Mozart arias and duets. The thankfully short piece contained much less singing than spoken word (in English to accommodate its star performer, I imagine) and to everyone’s surprise and disappointment, Sir Thomas, as the director, didn’t sing at all.
There has been a trend recently for companies to create ‘new’ operas stitching together existing songs from a particular composer and they usually work quite well, so there is nothing wrong with the principal. However, it has to work and the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts. With Der Schauspieldirektor the sums did not add up and the only part that offered any sort of redemption was the fine singing by the two sopranos, Kristina Bitenc and Chelsea Bonagura. Apart from that . . .
OperaZuid’s two previous productions, Orphée aux Enfers and Kurt Weill’s Lady in the Dark were brilliant and beautifully done. Sadly Der Schauspieldirektor was not. Michael Hasted in Rotterdam on 14th November 2023
Photo by Joost Milde