English National Opera’s second production for autumn 2013 is Die Fledermaus, that delicious confection from the Waltz King, Johann Strauss II. From the very opening bars, conductor Eun Sun Kim corrals us for a heady ride through the catchy tunes and syncopated rhythms of late 19th century Vienna.
Tom Randle is a delight as Gabriel von Eisenstein who goes to Prince Orlofsky’s ball when he should be going to prison! His wife Rosalinde, her maid Adele and the jailer Frank (after having mistakenly jailed the wife’s lover Alfred instead of Eisenstein) all turn up at the ball too, either in disguise or pretending not to recognise each other. All is orchestrated by Dr Falke as revenge on Eisenstein for an old slight (he left him dressed as a bat in public after a previous ball) and to entertain Prince Orlofsky. Next morning at the prison, the muddles are disentangled and all is blamed on an excess of champagne.
The sparkling translation by Daniel Dooner and Stephen Lawless hurls the silly plot full pelt towards its illogical conclusion. Julia Sporsén is in beautiful voice as Rosalinde, while Rhian Lois’ Adele stops the show with her laughing song. Jennifer Holloway is a genuinely funny Prince Orlofsky and holds her own despite sharing the stage with the peerless Andrew Shore as Frank and the ever-excellent Simon Butteriss as Dr Blind. Richard Burkhard is a suitably enigmatic Dr Falke. Edgaras Montvidas’ Alfred looks good out of his shirt, but his excellent singing means one can actually believe Rosalinde’s protestations that it is his high Cs that reduce her to a puddle.
Christopher Alden’s production tries to expose the darker undercurrents of the work, but while there are moments of interest and promise, setting the piece in a predominantly monochrome Freudian dream seems like an excuse to do away with any characterisation. Throw in a practically dance-free ball alongside a proto-fascist prison sequence, and much charm is drained away while the opportunity to add poignancy and genuine insight still feels largely wasted.
By Nik Dasgupta
Until 2 November (11 performances) at the London Coliseum, Saint Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ES with a start time of 7.30pm. For tickets (£12-£110) visit the Coliseum website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket from the ENO press team.
Photo: Strange bedfellows: Edgaras Montvidas as Alfred, Andrew Shore as Frank and Julia Sporsén as Rosalinde, © Robert Workman.