Saturday 12 October 2013

Second View: Die Fledermaus at the London Coliseum

Edgaras Montvidas, Andrew Shore, Julia Sporsen - Die Fledermaus - photo:Robert Workman/ENO
Edgaras Montvidas, Andrew Shore, Julia Sporsen
photo:Robert Workman/ENO
The premiere of English National Opera's new production of Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus was covered by Hilary for this blog. Reviews of the opera had been mixed, so I caught up with the production on 11 October 2013. Director Christopher Alden has folded references to Sigmund Freud and other late 19th century Viennese cultural icons into his staging (designed by Allen Moyer with costumes by Constance Hoffman) which was first seen in 2012 at Canadian Opera. For this staging ENO provided a strong cast with Julia Sporsen as Rosalinde, Tom Randle as her husband Eisenstein, Richard Burkhard as Falke (here a Sigmund Freud-like figure), Rhian Lois as the maid Adele, Jennifer Holloway as Orlofsky and Edgaras Montvidas as Alfred. Eun Sun Kim conducted, making her ENO debut.

Act one took place in Rosalinde's bedroom, an oversize space with a huge bed, scale distorted. But at a certain point cracks appeared, through which dancing girls and the like came. During the overture we had watched Rosalinde dream of bats and Dr. Falke's bat costume made frequent appearances in the opera. But Christopher Alden applied a light touch and the act was amusingly diverting. Problems occurred after the interval, Rosalinde's bed was now occupied by Orlofsky (Jennifer Holloway), albeit in a huge ballroom. Holloway played the role with a heavy cod-Russian accent and her demented-brat act palled very quickly. The remainder of act two was patchy, with scenes delightfully staged alternating with heavy-handed ones. The repeated introduction of hypnotism palled.

Both production style and design included many tropes familiar from David Alden's earlier operas for ENO such as Un Ballo in Maschera (except here Christopher Alden used an oversize repeater watch above the stage rather than a huge figure of time). I did wonder whether Christopher Alden in fact was having a joke with us over the whole production style and its references to David Alden's productions.

The use of nudity and costume was worryingly puritan, rather parading its daring. Edgaras Montvidas bravely stripped down but then spent the remainder of act one ensuring that we never saw quite how much he was revealing. As a striptease it was far more mesmerising a display than any flash of total or near total nudity, and became a focus of the action in all the wrong ways. In act two, when the chorus appeared they were dressed in lots of 'daring' costumes except semi-naked men and big hairy men in dresses are no longer daring. Then towards the end of act three, virtually everybody lost their clothes in true farce style and we saw so much underwear that ENO missed a sponsorship opportunity.

A rather worrying subordinate character during the first two acts had been Frank (Andrew Shore) the prison governor's sergeant who proved to be Frosch (Jan Pohl) a jailor with Nazi-like tendencies who helped turn act three into the most leadenly unfunny account of this act that I have ever seen.

This might have worked if the musical performance had been incandescent, but it was a bit patchier than that. As Adele, Rhian Lois was glorious, giving a career defining performance; we might forget the production but we will remember her performance, her poised entrance in act two down the staircase and the pinpoint accuracy of her coloratura in Adele's laughing song was dazzling. As yet her voice is on the light side for the London Coliseum, but she certainly held our attention.

As Eisenstein, Tom Randle was equally impressive albeit in a different way. Playing the character as a naive in wonderland, his combination of enthusiasm, a light touch and a firm tone was a delight. Just what we wanted Eisenstein to be.

Julia Sporsen was, on paper, quite perfect as Rosalinde and, in a smaller theatre she would be delightful. But her tone lacked the depth and richness needed to make the role work in this theatre. It didn't help that Alden rather over-staged the Csardas. Julia Sporsen's was a promising performance whose personality got lost in the welter of Alden's invention and the cavern that is the London Coliseum..

Jennifer Holloway sang Orlofsky well enough, but her over dramatised and cod-Russian antics completely put me off. Richard Burkhard as Dr. Falke impressed greatly and I hope to hear more of him. Andrew Shore was rather wasted as Frank though the sight of him in glamorous drag in act two was almost worth the entrance fee.  Simon Butteris was a demented Dr Blind. Edgaras Montivdas was a charming Alfred, coyly tempting in his act one striptease and with a strong sense of humour (and a well put together body!). Over Jan Pohl as Frosch I will draw a veil.

Eun Sun Kim was a great find in the pit, keeping Strauss's waltzes flowing perfectly but with a light hand. Die Fledermaus is not an easy opera to conduct, but Eun Sun Kim did so with charm and aplomb. I hope to hear her again soon in London.

ENO has clearly misjudged the mood with this production. Perhaps, as with much other comedy, things do not translate across the Atlantic and they would have been better off engaging a UK based director. Certainly the huge gaps in the auditorium indicated that their audience had not been captivated.

Simon Butteriss was credited as dialogue coach, so unlike the recent Fidelio, the dialogue fizzed along comprehensively and great credit to him and the cast for making it happen.

This was something of a wasted opportunity. Given ENO's track record with recent productions, we are unlikely to see this production revived in a re-worked format. There were some interesting ideas here and stripped of the portentousness (and pretentiousness) and unfunny prison guards, we might have an enjoyable Die Fledermaus.

Elsewhere on this blog:


  1. Wasn't this a Christopher Alden production - not David?

  2. Correct, my mistake. My only excuse is that the production reminded me so much of David Alden's vintage productions for ENO


Popular Posts this month