|Didi Derriere & ensemble - Die Fledermaus - Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Workman.|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on July 19 2016
Engaging account of the operetta classic, with a husband & wife team as the Eisensteins
|Susannh Hurrell, Samantha Price - Die Fledermaus - Photo Robert Workman.|
The British do not always have a good track record with operetta, and the style of productions can too often veer towards sit-com with music or Gilbert & Sullivan. And the stage at Opera Holland Park, with its wide open spaces, is not ideal for the intimacy which the form implies. But the new production managed to combine imagination and discipline with the requisite style to both charm and engage us, giving us Johann Strauss's froth with a little bit of edge underneath.
Things got off to a superb start with John Rigby's account of the overture. Rigby is a conductor whose credits include substantial experience in West End musical theatre, he encouraged the orchestra to perform with a sense of crisp rhythmic discipline which formed a vivid underpinning of Strauss's lovely melodies. Whilst these were given with the requisite flexibility, I enjoyed the way Rigby brought out the underlying structure. This crisply stylish and engaging performance set just the right tone for the whole operetta.
|Ben Johnson, Robert Burt, Susanna Hurrell|
Die Fledermaus - Photo Robert Workman.
The operetta was performed in Alistair Beaton's English translation which gave the work a nicely appealing immediacy without seeming too far removed from the original. Though the dialogue came over well the diction in the sung passages was a bit more variable so we did rather need the surtitles at times. Lloyd-Evans' emphasised the work's class hierarchy and character differences by using accents. Both Ben Johnson's Eisenstein and Susannah Hurrell's Rosalinde were cut-glass English, whilst Gavan Ring as Falke used his native Irish accent, and Jennifer France's Adele was distinctly Northern work class. I was surprised at how well the dialogue worked in this theatre, and many of the cast proved to have great comic timing.
The production was also very physical (and very funny) with Adam Scown's choreography flowing through the whole work without it ever seeming to be a dance extravaganza.
|Jennifer France - Die Fledermaus - Photo Robert Workman.|
One of the attractions of the production was that the Eisensteins were being sung by husband and wife team Susannah Hurrell and Ben Johnson (thus returning the role of Eisenstein to the tenor voice for which it was originally written). Johnson was a wonderfully charming Eisenstein, and Hurrell displayed a superb sense of comic timing. But husband and wife teams do not necessarily make good double acts on stage, thankfully here Hurrell and Johnson really made Act One fizz. This act is very much a French farce (the operetta is based on a French vaudeville) with music, and all concerned kept it nice and pacey without it seeming driven.
But though there are great solo moments, the operetta is very much an ensemble piece. Strauss writes lots of duets, trios and ensembles and the action requires strong sense of ensemble. The cast all brought this together, and we were presented with a complex machine finely tuned without ever being too aware of the mechanism. Like the music of the overture, this was all lightness with discipline underneath. The second act, involving the chorus and all the principals, is a complex piece of theatre and here we had a sense of brilliantly tight ensemble as well as those joyous melodies, and both the chorus and principals brought out the sense of the fun filling the Opera Holland Park stage.
But there are, of course, solos. Susannah Hurrell gave a lovely account of the Csardas in Act Two, bringing just the right amount of cod-exoticism to it (helped by a stunning costume). Jennifer France managed the difficult task of really nailing the coloratura in her solos, notably in the Laughing Song, whilst keeping the music in character; for once the music felt all of a piece with the drama. Samantha Price made a charming Orlofsky, here a woman really masquerading as a man; all part of Falke's carefully orchestrated plan.
Gavin Ring's Falke was a superb ensemble player, singing and acting with great charm and a twinkle in his eye, though I would have liked a little more sense of menace, the feeling that he really was the eminence grise. Peter Davoren managed to make the annoying character of the Italian tenor Alfred be delightfully charming, and Davoren played the whole role in an impenetrable Italian accent which was quite a feat. He and Johnson have very different styles of tenor voice, which brought a nice timbral variety to the evening.
Joanna Marie Skillett charmed as Ida, giving her a strong sense of personality whilst John Lofthouse's Frank was as physically inept as he was at his job as governor of the jail. Robert Burt brought a lovely pompousness to Dr Blind. Ian Jervis as a down at heel Frosch made his Act Three monologue into a genuinely funny moment skewering all variety of politicians, and unlike some performances he never outstayed his welcome.
|Ben Johnson & ensemble - Die Fledermaus - Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Workman.|
The chorus were on fine form, singing, dancing and having a whale of a time (largely in their underwear), whilst John Rigby and the orchestra ensured that the whole operetta was up to the level of the overture.
This was a production with a refreshing lack of an axe to grind, and a sense of the combination of sparkle and discipline needed to perform this piece. All concerned demonstrated that operetta really can work in the Opera Holland Park theatre, and I do hope we have further essays in the genre. We don't hear anything like enough operetta in London.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Chorus vel organa: Geoffrey Webber and Choir of Gonville & Caius College - CD review
- Remarkable swansong: Tristan & Isolde at Grange Park Opera - Opera review
- Nocturnal variations: Ruby Hughes & Joseph Middleton in Schubert, Berg, Mahler, Britten - CD review
- Complete Schumann & more: I chat to Sholto Kynoch about this year's Oxford Lieder Festival - Interview
- On disc at last: Wolf-Ferrari's I gioielli della Madonna - CD review
- On disc at last: Carlisle Floyd's Wuthering Heights - CD review
- Powerful stuff: London English Song Festival's Songs of the Somme - CD review
- Testament to a change in taste: Les mysteres d'Isis adapted from Mozart's The Magic Flute - CD review
- Young recital: Gemma Lois Summerfield & Sebastian Wybrew at Buxton - concert review
- Visual & aural feast: Handel's Tamerlano at Buxton - Opera review
- Classic yet modern: Bellini's Romeo and Juliet in Buxton - Opera review
- Miners, gardens and Auschwitz: I chat to Ella Marchment and Leo Geyer from Constella OperaBallet - Interview