Music: Johann Straus II
Libretto: Carl Haffner & Richard Genée
Director: John Copley
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Fun and frolics in Die Fledermaus, one of the greatest of Viennese operettas. Last staged by Welsh National Opera six years ago, John Copley’s production keeps all the frills and frou-frou of the original first performed in Vienna in 1874. The plot, convoluted as always with opera be it tragic or comic, is set in the social whirl of a spa town near Vienna.
Man about town, Gabriel von Eisenstein, is bemoaning his state. He has been sentenced to prison for misdemeanours the result of leaving his friend Dr. Falke to make his way home in broad daylight dressed as a bat after a fancy dress ball. Falke arrives on the scene and persuades Eisenstein to accept an invitation from the Russian oligarch, Prince Orlofsky (Emma Carrington), to a party and have a final fling before attending at the prison.
Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinda, played and sung by the delightful American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, serenaded by her erstwhile lover Alfred (tenor Paul Charles Clarke), is only too pleased to see her husband and her inquisitive maid, Adele, off the premises so that she can enjoy Alfred’s company – an arrangement that suits Adele to a T as she has too has received an invitation to Orlofsky’s party. In the soubrette role of Adele, Welsh soprano Rhian Lois could be more pert and less whingey in the opening scene although suitably coquettish in the latter half, and what promises to be an entertaining evening. Just how entertaining things turn out to be in the end, everyone – not least we, the audience – will discover. The result, predictably, is mayhem.
This revival, in the hands of Sarah Crisp, adds contemporary reference and a series of comedic touches to the mix. Necessary as it is to move with the times, and any creative worth his or her salt must inevitably wish to make their own mark, this modus operandi needs a careful hand. In this production of Die Fledermaus (The Bat), the brief asides in Acts I and II do tick the box, but are a trifle overdone in Act III despite calling forth much mirth. This is possibly due to the role of the gaoler, Frosch, being in the hands of Welsh actor Steve Speirs, making his debut with WNO and excellent in the role, despite the added humorous touches being a tad overdone at times.
As always with Strauss, the music is sheer delight, including the waltzes familiar to many of us, with the opening overture a precursor of the enjoyment to come. Tomas Hánǔs, acknowledged to be one of the Czech Republic’s most exciting and promising conductors, handles it superbly. The mix of operatic arias and spoken dialogue works well, blending seamlessly together, with the former including the well-known tunes that set our feet tapping.
It has become the fashion in some quarters to be sniffy about comic opera, but importantly this is opera in an easily assimilated form, which can, and should, be enjoyed for what it is and not taken too seriously. After all, that is the intention of comic opera and this much-loved operetta has all the ingredients to make it work.
Runs until 24 June 2017 | Image: Bill Cooper