Composer: Johann Strauss
Director: Peter Mulloy
Conductor: Martin Handley
Reviewer: Claire Hayes
Carl Rosa Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus has been a staple of the Shoreditch company’s repertoire since relaunching in 1998 and this week it is exclusively restaged and mounted for the Theatre Royal in Bath. Johann Strauss’s light-hearted operetta was first performed in Vienna in 1874, when its comic take on the perils of adultery and deception proved an instant success.
Gabriel von Eisenstein is about to face eight days in prison, thanks in part to the incompetence of his lawyer and, at the beginning of Act One, his wife Rosalinde is at home, preparing to use this time to reacquaint herself with her former lover Alfred. She gives her maid Adele the evening off and doesn’t appear too perturbed when her husband is persuaded by his friend Falke to enjoy one last night of freedom at Prince Orlofsky’s ball.
In Carl Rosa’s interpretation, these plot points are relayed to the audience in English, in a narration written by the playwright Ranjit Bolt. Clever and witty, it places Prince Orlofsky, played with a sure touch by Beverley Klein in the breeches rôle, at the heart of the action. It’s an interesting alternative to the introduction of surtitles for the German libretto.
This heavy reliance on narration, particularly at the beginning, does have a downside though – in that the other cast members, rather than carrying the story, have few lines of dialogue and concentrate instead on moving into the correct position to sing. This can make the performance in Act One static at times and also produces a hybrid which is a little uncomfortable, with narration and dialogue spoken in English, but the words of the songs remaining (without surtitles) in their traditional German.
This does improve in Act Two though; at Prince Orlofsky’s ball the cast is resplendent in colourfully traditional costumes based on 1875 designs and, with much less narration, walzes graciously around the stage. The entrance of a masked Rosalinde who – having seen her lover carted off to prison in a case of mistaken identity – proceeds to seduce her own husband in the “watch duet” while disguised as a Hungarian countess, is a high point in the drama.
Strauss’ music is sublime, conducted with precision by Martin Handley and played with delicacy by the orchestra. There is great vocal talent on display; at press night Lorna Rushton has a full-bodied, rich tone as Rosalinde while Victoria Joyce impresses as Adele, the maid with aspirations to the stage and her own moment of Eurovision-style dress reveal. Robin Pieta as Alfred takes on the tenor rôle with roguish wit and great stage presence and the chorus combines harmoniously throughout.
As the production reaches its dénouement at the prison in Act Three, double deception is unveiled thanks to the novelty of a repeating pocket-watch, and Falke – the bat of the title – sees his plan for revenge on Eisenstein for an earlier prank take an unexpected turn. The finale “O Fledermaus” provides a suitably rousing conclusion; on this entertaining evidence, Carl Rosa Opera company promises much if it succeeds in resuming a schedule of national touring later in the year.
Runs until Saturday 6th June 2015.