Barrie Kosky delights Berlin audiences once more with his new Perlen der Cleopatra, based on the 1924 operetta by Oscar Straus and currently being performed frequently in the Komische Oper Berlin. Mr. Kosky fills the stage with witty and clever opulence, nodding – not for the first time – to the era of the Weimar Kabarett. Gorgeous and great fun – soloists, chorus, dancers and orchestra are all simply wonderful in this production.

Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra), chorus and dancers © Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra), chorus and dancers
© Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de

Dagmar Manzel as Cleopatra is unfailingly perfect; humor, voice, stage presence. It is all there. Her hilarious Berliner dialect and charming asides have the audience roaring. The presentation of a Berliner “woman of a certain age” perfectly transformed into Cleopatra is priceless. Ms. Manzel is herself a Berliner, born in East Berlin in 1958, and this role could have been written for her.

Dominik Köninger (Silvius, a Roman officer), Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra) © Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
Dominik Köninger (Silvius, a Roman officer), Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra)
© Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
Adam Benzwi conducts from the piano. He has successfully thinned the original richly orchestrated score and his excellent piano accompaniment of Ms. Manzel lends an elegant chanson air to the evening. Mr. Benzwi's re-writing of the opera greatly expands the role of the dancers, giving them much to do – and they add great brilliance.

Much loved by Berlin audiences, Peter Renz is fabulous as Marc Antony. A member of the Komische Oper Ensemble since 1998 this man is a wonder of nature, performing in many varied roles, fantastically. In this opera alone he performs two roles, bringing great character to the stage along with his superb tenor. 

Talya Lieberman, the only other female soloist in the opera, certainly holds her own and is very charismatic as Charmian, even performing repeatedly on the trumpet. Her English inserts into the dialogue add fun to the chaos. Dominik Körniger, at times clad only in pearls and always flicking his blond tresses to great comic effect, sings his role beautifully – a wonderful combination of artistry and good fun. Our Prince of Persia, Johannes Dunz, and the scheming Minister Pampylos, Dominique Horwitz, are equally beautiful and empty-headed, and ugly and clever as their roles require.

Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra) © Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
Dagmar Manzel (Cleopatra)
© Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
Stark, Art Deco wall panels in black and white offer a pointy background to the colorful and feather-filled dance numbers. The effect is very well conceived and executed. The double meanings in this production are a tad more subtle than others experienced at the Komische opera and no less funny for it. Still, this being the Komische Oper, it is all a little naughty: “Of course the Nile rose, I went to the head...” Cleopatra reports with no hint of sarcasm at all.

The original premiere of the operetta was scheduled to take place in Berlin in 1923, but was then moved to Vienna, premiering in the Theatre an der Wien. It is therefore fitting that in this production the opera takes on such a Berliner Schnauze – especially charming to those who know and recognize it. 'Berliner Schnauze' is the local term used for someone with a sharp tongue. 'Schnauze' is, literally translated, the nose of a dog. Berliners love their dogs, and also a clever – sharp dialogue. This operetta is truly a pearl for all German speakers.

*****