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Let’s start with a perennial favourite, the film Oh...Rosalinda!! So famous you may not have heard of it. It is in fact a version of Die Fledermaus which neatly bookends the rise and demise of operetta, as its cinematic format virtually turns it into a musical; there remains a blur where operetta, musical and play overlap. As the form died in Europe with World War II, so America took the reins, and from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim we find a line of hybrid compositions that are open to classification. So Oh...Rosalinda!! started life as an operetta that was transformed to suit the times: Die Fledermaus was premiered in 1872, the film was released in 1955. It is something that operetta seems curiously adept at doing. Often dismissed as a bit brainless, it frequently sums up the zeitgeist. Perhaps because so many had to be composed at great speed to fulfil box office demand, writers and composers were constantly looking for the next fad to create or exploit.

Oh...Rosalinda!! is hugely enjoyable, not least because it was written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger following their previous musical triumphs, The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). You may be familiar with their visual style: saturated colours, red particularly blaring out against a range of deep pastels; highly stylised and lavish sets; deliberately exaggerated settings for over-the-top antics; but all underpinned by an extremely disciplined and marshalled camerawork and blocking. Everything is incredibly ‘placed’. Reset in the occupation of Vienna after the War, posh spiv Dr Falke offers his services to American, French, British and Russian sectors, a balancing act that leads to a complicated mess with everything coming to a head at a masked ball. The only authentic thing about it is Anton Walbrook (Viennese-born) as Falke. The French Eisenstein is Michael Redgrave (English); his wife, Rosalinda, played by ballerina Ludmilla Tchérina (in fact French). Her maid Adele is the German soprano Anneliese Rothenberger, Russian Orlofsky is Anthony Quayle (English), and Alfred, the tenor, is American – Mel Ferrer (who, remarkably, actually was American). Lots of the singing is dubbed but don’t let that deter you. It is a real period piece and greatly entertaining.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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