After stunning classical and popular music concerts at both Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London last year, Glyndebourne Festival Opera brought their touring production of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus to Henry VIII’s country retreat with flair and style. As twilight descended on Hampton Court the bats were out in the sky, whilst onstage, the bat certainly got his revenge in this comic and musically brilliant affair.
The Base Court was a stunning location for this event but its modest size does present logistical issues. Of course, this could not be a full scale production, but the crew, orchestra and performers used the space well and gave it their all. With the orchestra at the back of the stage, the power is sometimes lost but unlike the electronically amplified sound of Anna Bolena at the Tower last year, the music was crisp and perfectly audible.
The orchestra itself was on top form and it seized the opportunity to convey the frivolity and joviality of Strauss’ composition. Glyndebourne Music Director and future Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski conducted his orchestra with conviction, and was engaged in the music and the dialogue of the production – being centre stage, he made himself a part of the action!
In period costume the cast and chorus looked stunning and they made up for the lack of sets and space. The unavoidable simplicity magnified the comic value of the production, because the audience was so much more focused on the artists, their voices and acting.
The two sopranos were spectacular. Stacey Tappan as Adele was slight in body but her voice was perfect in tone and she hit the high notes with unchallenged clarity. Her performance as the maid-cum-actress was witty and sexy; being stripped down to her tights and corset didn’t seem to fluster her but it certainly had an effect on the audience!
In contrast, Pamela Armstrong as Rosalinde had a voice of brevity and its presence was of real value to the production. She made for a fine busty Austrian Countess with an awful accent and serious over-acting it was what farce is all about.
Armstrong worked well with both her baritone husband Eisenstein (ably played by Thomas Allen) and her tenor lover Alfred. Bonaventura Bottone played the role of the love-struck fop well – perfect comic timing and farcical body language is obviously his forte.
A new English translation of the libretto has been provided for this year’s revival of Stephen Lawless‘ 2003 production, and it worked well here, on the whole. A reference to Wayne Rooney’s Metatarsal was bizarre but nonetheless well received by the audience. It was through Ursula Hesse Von Den Steinen as Prince Orlofsky that the greatest laughs came – her deep Russian accent and stoic sober attitude was hilarious. The libretto was, however, the productions only weakness at times, with slightly clumsy English, and the jokes made by Ida and the prison governor’s servant were a little tiresome.
For an open air concert performance of a well-loved comic opera, you can’t get much better than this. Working in a space in which Eric Clapton will also play and lying under Heathrow’s outbound flight path, Glyndebourne Festival Opera proves that with a fine orchestra and talented performers, anything is possible.