Die Perlen der Cleopatra


Since taking up the Komische’s reigns six seasons ago, the Australian impresario Barrie Kosky has succeeded in making the Komische synonymous with Weimar-era operetta, resurrected to something approximating its original schmaltzy glory in razzle dazzle ‘em productions that reveal Kosky as a showman of the first order. Die Perlen der Cleopatra, which bowed for the first time at Theater an der Wien in 1923 and transferred to Berlin a year later, was on balance, not as impressive as Eine Frau, die weiss, was sie will, the Komische’s first Oscar Straus’ outing from two seasons ago, due in part to the overstuffed silliness crowding the stage for the better part of three hours.

There’s no need to attempt a summary of Julius Bammer and Alfred Grünwald’s preposterous libretto (a note in the program advertised / warned viewers: “Historical Inaccuracies Guaranteed!”). The threadbare plot pivots on Cleopatra’s constantly frustrated attempts to find a guy who isn’t just another “little Egyptian flirt.”

Expect plenty of crazed, screaming ensemble scenes, flashy feather-filled Egyptian themed dance numbers (choreographer Otto Pichler paying homage to Steve Martin), glamorous costumes (Victoria Bahr) and blithely anachronistic touches against wildly patterned backgrounds (sets by Rufus Didwiszuz).

Cleopatra has its lush moments, including a frenzied Aida medley, but this is far from a thickly orchestrated, brass-heavy piece. It sure would be great to hear Straus’ music as it sounded in 1923 – unmiked.