The German word schadenfreude means "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others," and there was a lot of it being wished on the Vienna premiere of "The Sound of Music." Franco-Canadian director Renaud Doucet has righted many wrongs in his joyous production by minimizing the sucrose level and maximizing the historical content.
The German word schadenfreude means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others,” and there was a lot of it being wished on the Vienna premiere of “The Sound of Music.” Austrians have long harbored a grudge against the classic tuner, citing its many sociopolitical inaccuracies (exacerbated by Robert Wise’s legendary 1965 film). Franco-Canadian director Renaud Doucet has righted many wrongs in his joyous production by minimizing the sucrose level and maximizing the historical content.In a moment that still sends chills down the spine of any Austrian citizen, Doucet floods the auditorium with Nazi soldiers for the song contest of the penultimate scene. Debate over the Anschluss, Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria, sugar-coated for the film, puts things in perspective, as does the final tableau: the von Trapp family standing in silhouette before endless rows of mountain peaks, emphasizing the serious journeys ahead of them (the film makes it seem like they simply walk away from Salzburg to safety in Switzerland, a geographic impossibility). Doucet’s message is loud and clear: Freedom is not to be taken for granted, in any society at any time. Doucet manipulates the action with cinematic ease (there are 20 set changes), contributes some delicious choreography and has avoided casting the seven children as pretty faces: They are a refreshingly normal-looking lot who sing (and misbehave) like reasonably talented kids rather than celluloid angels. Andre Barbe has given the show a look of authenticity without being literal. The Alps are omnipresent, as they really are in Salzburg, and Guy Simard has captured their unique glow , bathing the stage in the blues, purples and oranges of Maxfield Parrish. The exteriors are evocative, the economically designed interiors capable of conjuring von Trapp’s mansion with two staircases and a door that descend from the flies. Stereotypes are avoided — no dirndls and lederhosen here — with attractive, straightforward costumes for Maria and the kids, and one dragon-lady cocktail gown for Elsa, von Trapp’s soon-to-be-dumped fiancee. The translation by Ute Horstmann and Eberhard Storch (the show is performed in German with English supertitles) remains remarkably faithful and works many small miracles, even correcting a gastronomic error in “My Favorite Things”: Any Austrian will tell you schnitzel is never served with noodles; song now celebrates “gulasch mit nockerln.” It is almost unfair to plop Europop diva Sandra Pires onto a stage full of seasoned veterans. Her Maria is so tiny that she almost fades from view, her pop vocal production at odds with the rest of the classically trained cast. Pires’ spunk and commitment will get her through this initial run, but one looks forward to the inevitable change of cast. This leaves the show squarely on the comely shoulders of Michael Kraus as the Captain, and it would be hard to imagine more perfect casting. A lush-voiced baritone at home as Mozart’s Figaro and Don Giovanni as he is as Sweeney Todd, Kraus creates a complex, charismatic portrait of a man torn between duties as father, soldier, patriot, fiance and lover. Heidi Brunner, another accomplished Mozartean, sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” so gorgeously you will need Kleenex. The kids are equally sensational, and there’s not a weak link in the supporting ensemble. The important thing here is the production: It plays 22 perfs in repertory through the end of Volksoper’s season in June, but undoubtedly will return for many years, cast from the company’s solid resident ensemble.