Composer: Johann Strauss II
Director: John Copley
Conductor: James Southall
Revival Director: Sarah Crisp
Reviewer: Daryl Holden
“This evening, we will have a boring domestic comedy”. With this particular joke arising midway through the second act of Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus, you would be forgiven for thinking that they are indeed talking about their own show. For the most part you would be correct. It takes a long time for this show to truly seem like it’s getting anywhere and although it fills the time between with beautifully composed scores, this isn’t going to keep you satisfied forever. It’s a comedic, yet somewhat endearing tale of lies, deceit and a classic case of mistaken identity which construct the plot for Die Feldermaus. Undoubtedly, the script offers up more than a handful of opportunities to play around and create something truly unique within its genre, and it’s a shame when these blindingly obvious opportunities are never seized.
The first act is a slog to get through, there is no denying. It acts as nothing more than set up for the far more interesting parts that are to come. Here we see that Eisenstein is due to be incarcerated, but plans to sneak off to a ball, and in doing so sets off a chain of events that make up the plot of the piece. Indeed, it’s quite cleverly designed, albeit adhering to a formula that we’ve come to know and expect nowadays. With every character having their own individual times in the spotlight, you come to see what you can expect from the performance, some very fine pieces of singing and theatricality. Occasionally though, two or three characters have to share this spotlight, and you can’t help but feel they’re each trying to outperform one another, creating not an air of cohesion, but one of menace and threat.
The second act starts off with much more of a bang, utilising the shows supporting cast to create an atmosphere you wish had been present from the start. This doesn’t last long though as the act gets midway through and begins to heavy-handedly apply the brakes, filling the time to the end with slow, repeating dialogue that even the cast appear to realise is only there to lead into the next song, and treat it as such. The momentum from a high powered number is lost when the scene shifts back to half-hearted dialogue and it leaves both the performers and audience wanting for more.
It isn’t until the third act that the piece finally figures out what it should have been from the start, a comedy opera that treats its audience as people rather than mere subjects to impress. It starts with a surprise guest appearance from Steve Speirs, acting as a prison guard, who proceeds to perform somewhat of a stand-up routine with the energy needed to reinvigorate the audience with the life that had been slowly draining from them for the past two hours. This then sets the tone for the rest of the cast to liven up and perform their best, and makes for some of the best comedic lines, timings and moments throughout the entirety of the piece itself. It’s fantastic to watch the performers finally let loose and feel comfortable for the first time in the space and you can’t help but have a smile throughout. That is until the somewhat unsatisfyingly, fairytale-esque ending in which everything is quickly tied up in a neat little bow and you can’t tell if you’ve been left with a sour taste in your mouth or you’d been fooled into believing the piece was going to end in any other way.
It takes some time, but the piece gets to where it seems to have been striving to reach from the offset, and when it does, the show finds a new lease of life. Luckily, we can forgive this slow build thanks to the sublime score offered by the band, conducted by James Southall, and the electrifying singing talents of the cast themselves, who never once seem to miss a note or word, and have the upmost confidence in what they are doing on stage, enabling the audience to want to invest their time in this show.
With that being said, this is the kind of show that’s instantly forgettable. You enjoy it for what it is in the moment then carry on with the rest of your day. It’s not bad by any means but it definitely has room for improvement, and although this is the first opera that this reviewer has seen, it has made a good enough impression to make sure that it shall not be the last.
Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Bill Cooper