Music: Johan Strauss II
Libretto: C. Huffier and Richard Genee, translated by Ruth and Thomas Martin
Director: Ellen Kent
Conductor: Vasyl Vasylenko
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Strauss’s light operetta Die Fledermaus is widely regarded as one of the finest comedic works in the operatic canon. The setup, which engineers all the principal characters introduced in Act I into attending the same masked ball in Act II, all under assumed names and identities, sets the scene for ironic misunderstandings and misdirectionsbefore Act III tidies everything up after introducing its own comedies.
Ellen Kent’s rendition often struggles to deliver such comedy. Matters threaten to disappoint when the curtain comes up on the same set that the company used for Tosca in its previous visit to Aylesbury. The Italianate embellishments feel out of place for a Viennese setting, with matters not helped by wicker garden furniture that looks like it has been borrowed from a 1970s Cinzano Bianco commercial. Thankfully, the performances distract from the inappropriateness of the set, even when they are not strong enough for the material.
In general, the English translations retain the light tone of the original, but the heavy accents of the cast, dominated by performers from Russia and Ukraine, make the provided surtitles required reading, which has the effect of puncturing what little comic timing these performers working in a language that is not their own are able to conjure with. Having those same surtitles resort to “(SINGS IN RUSSIAN/ROMANIAN)” during the big Act II arias from Orlovsky and Rosalinde respectively doesn’t help matters.
As the chambermaid Adele, who during the ball sequence gets to perform Mein Herr Marquis, the laughing song that is Die Fledermaus’s signature aria, Maria Tonina is the best of the performers here, brightly and breezily running rings around her masters in Act I and continuing in much the same vein throughout. Alyona Kistenyova, who brought such a charming twinkle to the role of Tosca in the company’s previous visit to Aylesbury, weaves the same skill into her Rosalinde, the woman who juggles a husband and a suitor both as herself and as the mysterious Transylvanian beauty in the ball.
Less successful is Liza Kadelnik in the trouser role of Prince Orlovsky. Compared to the two sopranos, her mezzo feels underpowered and her spoken dialogue similarly struggles. And of the male performers, there is a similar disparity: doubling up as both the scheming Dr Falke and Alfred, the singing teacher who wishes to seduce Rosalinde, Ruslan Pacatovici impresses in his few bursts of appropriated arias, while Ruslan Zinevych’s Eisenstein holds the ensemble together well.
Act III’s comedy is usually delivered by the drunken jailer Frosch. Unfortunately, as played by Vladimir Dragos, there is too much dependency on a delivery that looks for all the world like Frosch is reading his lines which, combined with the diificulty of performing comedy in a non-native language, deflates the mood somewhat. The final ensemble number, in which the whole sorry mess is laughed off under the excuse of too much champagne, brings the curtain down on a production which is fitfully fun, but is rather more of a slightly flat sparkling wine than finest Moët.
Reviewed on 1 April 2016 | Image: Contributed