Composer: Johann Strauss II
Director: Christopher Alden
Reviewer: Harry Stern
Die Fledermaus isn’t a profound piece of writing. The secret of its enduring popularity must, logically, lie in its levity. It is, in fact, the lightest of light operettas. Not so in Christopher Alden’s leaden hands, which weigh this piece of fin de siècle flimsy down to the point where you wonder how the piece could ever have stood the test of time.
While recognisable tune follows recognisable tune, the frivolous Vienna of the original is transmuted into a sub-Freudian nightmare. Taking the great doctor as his muse Alden addresses his production to the thesis of bourgeois marriage being the locus of societal discontent. At least that is what his programme note intimates. All he succeeds in doing is wringing the life out it.
Under the obvious Freudian symbol of hypnosis, an outsize swinging watch, the characters play out their story. The synopsis of the three acts concerns the various shenanigans and to-ings and fro-ings of a group of silly people doing silly things. While Eisenstein is out at a court hearing his wife, Rosalinde is wooed by another, a hot-blooded tenor called Alfred to whom she succumbs. The husband returns to report that he is to go to prison for eight days. The maid Adele pretends to have a sick aunt so she can go to Prince Orloff’s party. A Dr Falke persuades Eisenstein that he too should go to the party before going to jail. Frank, the jailer, turns up to take Eisenstein to jail but he has already gone to the party so he takes Alfred instead before he too goes to the party. For good measure, Rosalinde disguises herself as a masked Hungarian countess and goes to Orloff’s party.
At the party in Act I, they all get drunk on Champagne and things get complicated. In Act II, they all go to the prison and everything gets sorted out. It is a good humoured confection and an ideal vehicle for Strauss’ composition.
This version includes much dialogue that gets lost in the cavernous space of the Coliseum’s auditorium. The perennial problem of opera singers delivering the spoken word does nothing to help the feeling that the words are hard to endure.
The singing and playing is, thankfully, first-rate. There are stand out performances from Rhian Lois as Adele and Tom Randle as Eisenstein. In truth, there is not a weak voice and Eun Sun Kim’s debut at ENO is assured.
The massed ranks of the chorus dressed in varying stages of déshabillé are anything but the sexy, randy conglomerate promised by the pre-publicity. It all seems very old hat and, for such a vibrant piece of musical composition, bizarrely static. People stand, they sit, they walk, they leave. They don’t dance, even when the music is in three-four.
And the clock goes on swinging, measuring out the two and a half hours until the piece is done and the audience can return to the light.