You may not know too much about Berlin operetta, but even when you’re not a native German, chances are high that you know Berlin’s unofficial anthem “Berliner Luft”, or “Berlin Air”. Chances are that you can also sing and dance along to waltzes and non-military marches whose choruses go “Luft, Luft, Luft” or “mop, mop, mop”. If you like the idea, welcome to Paul Lincke’s Frau Luna and the silver era of operetta, where “shimmer” rhymes with “glimmer”. These “silver operettas” by Straus, Lehár and Fall, to name their most famous composers, take as their stock-in-trade earworm songs, vaudeville plots and ribald humour – and Frau Luna counts as a prototype of the style, which followed the era of Strauss, von Suppé and Millöcker. In times where “original” or “period” is a trend in classical music and often perceived as good quality in itself, Frau Luna also serves as a refreshing example of how changing and updating a work can be for its better, as it started out as a one-act operetta in 1899 and was performed in numerous versions before reaching something like completion in a 1922 release with two acts and the addition of the said “Berliner Luft” from Lincke’s operetta of the same name. For the recent Volksoper production, German conductor Gerrit Prießnitz has continued this tradition and added two more Lincke songs, the charming “Light Bug Idyll” from Lysistrata as well as a tenor solo from Im Reich des Indra. The chance to hear these little gems was welcome, as Vienna is unlikely to see Lincke’s other works soon, and even Frau Luna, which was an enormous success right from its world première, is being shown at the Volksoper for the first time.

Julia Koci (Frau Luna) © Barbara Pálffy / Volksoper
Julia Koci (Frau Luna)
© Barbara Pálffy / Volksoper

Judging by the warm welcome from the audience, it will very likely see revivals. The credit should be shared between Prießnitz’s swift and muscular conducting, and Peter Lund’s cleverly updated libretto, in which the story of the Berliners that fly to the moon in a self-made balloon (or perhaps rather dream the entire thing) gets some socio-critical touches, as a colony on the moon might help with the turn-of-the-century housing shortage. The man in the moon is really a lady (and therefore the title heroine), who, tired of Prince Shooting Star’s ever-the-same compliments, falls in love with Steppke and adopts some of his working-class-friendly ideas, whereas he is only interested in the technologies on the moon. Nothing of this fits into Theophil’s plans, the secret ruler of the moon whose accent identifies him as an elderly Viennese; nor does the arrival of Frau Pusebach, who fell in love with Theophil 20 years ago. As he is married to Stella, he soon finds himself in both private and political turmoil, but of course everybody ends up with their right partners, which for Steppke means returning to his fiancée in Berlin, and Frau Pusebach and Theophil are content with one date a month. It could have been worse: the apocalypse, a voluntary Anschluss of the moon as a suburb of Berlin, is luckily called off.

Visually, this production is as humourous and glittering as this revue-type operetta should be when performed: Sam Madwar’s video work zooms in from outer space to the back yards of Berlin in UFA film chic and the moon as seen from Berlin is the face of a silent movie actor wearing a monocle. Madwar’s simple set design for the moon (often a big wheel-shaped metal construction that is a command bridge) nicely contrasts the imaginative costumes and hairstyles by Daria Kornysheva, of which the skin-tight golden suits for the star sign ballet and Stella’s sculpted artificial hair and behind stand out. The ballet scenes (Andrea Heil) are equally beautifully crafted and entertaining (in a little lunar revolution, the two dancers representing Sagittarius get torn apart), and the chorus scenes are no less enjoyable. It has to be said that the stars didn’t quite align for some of the soloists, but with alternating ensembles, as is the house custom, there are often surprises. Boris Eder doesn’t count as a surprise any more, as he is currently the house’s greatest comedian; as Theophil, he held the ensemble together. Mehrzad Montazeri is not the first cast for Prince Sternschnuppe, but did well in his songs that with the exception of Frau Luna’s are more operatic than the rest. In the latter, Birgid Steinberger hit her notes, but they often seemed unconnected, and the same can be said of Elvira Soukop’s Marie. David Sitka as Steppke impressed more with his dancing than his singing and Isabel Weicken as Frau Pusebach sported an almost spotless Berlin accent. Both gave a fine performance, as did the rest of the cast. Some singers wore microphones, but the effect was very discreet.

****1