Friday 4 October 2013

Fabulous farce: Die Fledermaus at the ENO

Die Fledermaus - photo:Robert Workman/ENO
Die Fledermaus - photo:Robert Workman/ENO
After a twenty year absence the bat is back. A funny outrageous farce of a show, ENO's new production of Die Fledermaus at the London Coliseum is sure to be a real winner if the opening night (30 September 2013) is anything to go by. Directed by Christopher Alden, who in 2008/09 won an Olivier Award for Handel's Partenope with English National Opera, this version of Die Fledermaus was first performed by the Canadian Opera Company in 2012.

An operetta rather than an opera it is short snappy and humorous with spoken dialogue between musical numbers and, being the ENO, the whole thing is in English (although there are still surtitles just in case). The libretto translation by Daniel Dooner and Stephen Lawless contains some up to the minute jokes, which keep it relevant to a British audience.

The staging by set designer Allen Moyer was simultaneously minimalist and fabulous with an oversize bed, watch, and stairs being the main point of focus. Themes of dreams, surrealism, and hypnotism are explored from the opening overture. In the programme notes Alden discusses the synchronous placing of both Johann Strauss (1825 –1899) and Sigmund Freud (1856 –1939), and his ideas of dream analysis, in Vienna at a time when Austria was suffering a recession and political and cultural changes. However this is a bit of stretch - Die Fledermaus premiered in 1874 when Freud was just 18. But it makes for an interesting subplot – opera after all involves suspension of disbelief on many levels.

Die Fledermaus is Eun Sun Kim’s conductorial debut with the ENO and the waltzes swayed along with a real party feel. The costuming by Constance Hoffman added to the hedonism, with more than a hint of subversion – somewhere between the Rocky Horror Show and Hollywood glamour.

The story begins with Rosalinde played by Julia Sporsén writhing on the bed in the midst of a dream to be interrupted by her old flame Alfred (Edgaras Montvidas – who later gets take his clothes off to reveal – well, practically everything). Sending Alfred away as her husband, Gabriel von Eisenstein performed by Tom Randle, returns home with his debauched lawyer Dr Blind (Simon Butteriss) having failed at his appeal to avoid going to prison.

The bat of the title role Dr Falke, played by Richard Burkhard, causes mischief setting up revenge on Eisenstein for a previous prank, inviting everyone to a party held by one of his patients, Prince Orlofsky. Ostensibly to amuse Orlofsky but unaware of this, the protagonists at the party each try to conceal their identities from each other with limited success and hilarious results. The final comeuppance is tempered by a happy ending.

With people under the bed, people being hypnotised, people hugging the walls, and practically everyone taking their clothes off or getting changed on stage – even the maid who wants to be an actress: in true starlet fashion all her clothes fall off, Die Fledermaus is a very surreal farce. Keeping the set between the party and the prison adds to the confusion – were they always in the prison or is it a metaphor for the way Falke manipulated his cast?

Alongside the psychoanalytical themes Alden investigates social change – juxtaposition, issuing from a rewriting of the roles, between the hedonistic gaoler Frank (Andrew Shore) and the fanatical Frosch (Jan Pohl ) is a broad swipe at the changes in Austria which would lead to the rise of Hitler.

Rhian Lois’s Adele deserves special praise for her solos especially the 'Laughing Song' as does Jennifer Holloway who played an over the top depressed Prince Orlofsky.

Die Fledermaus runs at the London Coliseum through October and into November.
review by Hilary Glover

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