The story of Lerner and Loewe’s 1947 Broadway musical hit Brigadoon is simple. An idyllic Scottish village lost in time magically reappears just as two New York tourists stumble across it while on holiday. New York boy (Ben Connor) meets Scottish girl (Rebecca Nelsen) and love blooms large on the heathered Highlands, accompanied by scads of dancing, a marriage, a funeral and – naturally – tartan and bagpipes. Never before espied on the Austrian stage, Brigadoon has been likewise magically resurrected, transported from its original home in the iconic Ziegfeld Theater and adapted with charm to Vienna's Volksoper.

<i>Brigadoon</i> © Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien
Brigadoon
© Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien

The success of this reinvention lies on Rudolf Klaban’s effective staging which is very generously “halbszeniert”. Eight dancers and a dozen minor and major characters act and jig and fight and flirt to the front of the stage. The middle is left to the orchestra, playing beautifully under Lorenz C. Aichner’s leadership. The chorus (direction, Thomas Böttcher) frames the back, stolidly singing alternately in front and behind a massive scrim featuring projections of vaguely Scottish landscapes. Besides creating this particular adaptation, House Dramaturg Christoph Wagner-Trenkwitz also serves multiple functions on stage, slipping into minor roles, narrating away some of the more tedious bits, framing the general action and giving the largely German speaking Volksoper audience a break from all the (more or less ) Scottish brogue in which the rest of the evening is spoken and sung (language coach, Doug Urquhart).

Ben Connor (Tommy Albright) and Rebecca Nelsen (Fiona MacLaren) © Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien
Ben Connor (Tommy Albright) and Rebecca Nelsen (Fiona MacLaren)
© Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien

Little is left to be desired in the vocal department. Ben Connor, an effective Tommy Albright, the indecisive city bachelor, began vocally tight but relaxed into a beautiful, rich baritone timbre by the second act. His love interest, Fiona MacLauren was sung and played with warmth and lightness by house favourite Rebecca Nelsen. The second set of lovers, Fiona’s sister Jeanie (Juliette Khalil) and Charlie Dalrymple (Peter Kirk) make the most of their moments to shine, with “Jeannie’s Packing Up” and “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” respectively. Milkmaid Meg Brockie (Jessica Aszodi) threatens to steal the show comedically, first while recounting her storied romantic past to Jeff Douglas (Jeffrey Treganza) in “The Love Of My Life”, and later recounting the debacle of her parents drunken nuptials in “My Mother’s Wedding Day”. Even the smallest roles are thoughtfully cast, from the head of the MacLauren clan (Vernon Jerry Rosen), to Brigadoon resident Stuart Cameron (Jakob Semotan), who vocally transcends the narrow girth of his role.

Maximilian Klakow, Jessica Aszodi, Vernon Jerry Rosen, Rebecca Nelsen and Juliette Khalil © Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien
Maximilian Klakow, Jessica Aszodi, Vernon Jerry Rosen, Rebecca Nelsen and Juliette Khalil
© Barbara Palffy | Volksoper Wien

Brigadoon was a three-artist effort in its conception, with groundbreaking choreographer Agnes de Mille responsible for extensive and heavily integrated dance scenes. It was therefore a pleasure to see movement so effectively utilized in this production, with elements of ballet, modern and Scottish folk melded in true de Mille fashion (choreography: Florian Hurler). Oliver Liebl was convincing in an excellent sword dance, and Maggie (Mila Schmidt)’s funeral dance was a standout within the strong ensemble, who promenaded, leapt, swayed and flitted in an out of the action. The costumes were tastefully understated, a tribute to the resourcefulness of the house. In an era where tasteless Rainhard Fendrich tribute musicals dominate, it is wonderful to remember that the budget for costumes does not have to exceed the national debt of a small country to be appealing, and that energy thoughtfully directed towards the entire artistic experience can still delight and charm a Viennese audience.

****1