Beautifully sung, artistically creative and visually stunning, GOT provided a wonderful two hours with Strauss’ frothy comic opera set in turn of the century Vienna. Written and first staged in 1875, this production of Fledermaus is directed by Stephen Lawless and has been brought forward in time and set in 1905, the same year as Lehar’s Merry Widow, which, with Fledermaus, is one of the two most popular light operas ever written.
Reading from the programme notes the plot is, of course, completely bonkers. The synopsis is so mind bogglingly convoluted that comprehension looks impossible without the aid of a stiff drink in one hand.
Which doubtless explains the constant fortification of the cast with industrial quantities of champagne to ensure survival. There is champagne by the bucket, but the bubbles work their magic and that plot effervesces into life, or at least begins to make some sort of sense. From the moment that Bonaventura Bottone enters pushing a piano across the stage and looking like Harpo Marx, it dawns that the tone is being set for a different sort of a night at the opera.
From the first notes of the overture the orchestra is conducted with crisp passion and youthful energy by the precociously talented Robin Ticciati. In 2007 this amazing 23 year old protg of Sir Colin Davis and Sir Simon Rattle will replace Ed Gardner who has contributed so much to Glyndebourne’s success over the last few years as GOT’s new generation Music Director, and promises great things. Throughout he captured the sparkle and essence of the rhythmic fluidity of the score, moving the orchestra effortlessly from the brisk idiosyncratic rhythms of the Viennese waltz themes to languorous, and back again, with deft shading.
All the main players do full justice to their roles. Amelia Farrugia as Adele dominated much of the action in her soubrette role, with a vibrant personality and superb singing verging on the stratospheric. Majella Cullagh as Rosalinde sings billowing melodic phrases, with flawless comic timing, combining sexiness with bitter nostalgia for her once happy marriage in the famous Czarda. Allison Cook is engaging as the sexually ambiguous, terminally bored and under entertained Prince Orlofsky.
Bonaventura Bottone as the flamboyant Alfred sings lustily as Rosalinde’s would be lover, eternally romantic with a passion for high Cs. John Graham-Hall as Rosalinde’s erring husband Von Eisenstein think Bertie Wooster meets George Grossmith and the butt of the evening’s practical joke is a fine comic actor yet never too hammy. David Kempster sings Dr Falke with vocal robustness and theatrical aplomb getting his own back (The Revenge of the Bat) on his old friend for a humiliating practical joke played on him by von Eisenstein years before, and Richard Mosley-Evans is in excellent voice playing the straight-laced gauleiter of a Prison Governor, Frank. Richard Van Allen as the Prison Governor’s deputy, Frosch appeared in Act III giving a nicely judged solo stint of jaded cynical and anti-Freudian comments on events, and delivered some locally topical one liners which were greatly appreciated by the audience. He also reappeared in the pit, looking like a municipal park bandmaster, taking up the baton for the Radetsky March during the curtain calls.
Whilst the music sparkles with exquisitely crafted melodies and a frothy live-for-today attitude that is almost impossible to resist, the reality is that Strauss was satirising the double standards of the time, of a Viennese bourgeoisie obsessed with a disposable culture of celebrity, wealth and appearance, whose salacious infidelities were kept hidden by day but come out, like the bat, after dark.
The ingenious and striking set, by Benoit Dugardyn, revolved like the waltzing dancers and both the overall design and costumes, by Ingeborg Bernerth, were a perfect evocation of the opulent Secessionist style, meticulous down to Von Eisenstein’s dressing gown, courtesy of Gustav Klimt. If there was a criticism to be made, it was that despite the fact that the opera was sung in English translation, on several occasions words, particularly from the female cast members, were lost or unintelligible, either from poor diction or acoustic disparity produced by the set. Surtitles would have overcome that irritation and avoided the need to have to strain to avoid missing anything.
All in all, this was a hugely enjoyable production of elegance and flair: the entire cast worked hard – and clearly had a ball – putting everything in to it, not least the statuesque chorus member who took everything off.