Carl Nielsen after comedy by Ludvig Holberg
Frankfurt am Main Opera, Germany

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Alfred Reiter (Jeronimus) with revellers Credit: Monika Rittershaus
Susan Bullock (Magdelone) Credit: Monika Rittershaus
The ensemble Credit: Monika Rittershaus

Maskarade is the national opera of Denmark, and if it’s a fair representation of the country’s character, it must indeed be one of the happiest places on earth.

For this production, the work was translated from Danish into colloquial German, largely for the sake of the audience in Frankfurt, but this may have the virtue of alerting a wider audience to Nielsen’s delightful score, which combines unexpected harmonic shifts with tuneful melodies that could almost come from Johann Strauss.

There’s not much of a story: the middle-class Jeronimus has arranged for his son Leander to marry the unseen daughter of his friend Leonard, but the lad has fallen in love with an unknown girl he has just met at an all-night party. In fact, she turns out to be... well, you know.

Their intrigue is facilitated by Leander’s wily valet Henrik—a figure akin to Figaro, but with none of the latter’s subversive tendencies. The two are more like best mates, and their scheme comes to fruition at the masquerade where mistaken identities ensure things go swimmingly.

Liviu Holender is the fast-talking Henrik alongside Michael Porter’s Leander, with Alfred Reiter the old reactionary Jeronimus. Wagnerian and Frankfurt regular Susan Bullock casts aside Brünnhilde’s breastplate and clearly has fun in the role of Jeronimus’s adventure-starved wife Magdelone. Like everyone else, she dons a disguise to attend the party—imagine Grayson Perry dressed as Minnie Mouse—and it looks as if designer Rainer Sellmaier had emptied an Oxfam charity shop as well as a fancy dress retailer to provide crazy costumes for the entire cast.

But funny clothes apart, Tobias Kratzer’s production, set on a rectangular platform framed by three steps, lacks imagination: the only good gag involves servants holding up a painting in the absence of a wall, and the choreography in the final act lacks a narrative beyond a lot of jigging around.

Maskarade is a jaunty, if rather slight opera, which if it is to work, needs to let its hair down. This doesn’t; boring old Jeronimus would approve.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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