Die Fledermaus, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2013Posted on 10 October 2013
This new production is by Christopher Alden, twin brother of David Alden whose many successful ENO works include the present, very successful Peter Grimes production, being revived in Jan/Feb 2014. By contrast, Christopher’s Fledermaus production, which I was not able to see on the first night, attracted very negative reviews and during the interval I wondered why.
Act I had been successful enough, with fine performances from Tom Randle and Julia Sporsén as Eisenstein and his wife Rosalinde. Edgaras Montvidas sang well as Alfred the tenor, admirer and potential lover for Rosalinde, and his colourful seventeenth century costume suggested a character from Rosalinde’s daydreams. Rhian Lois as her maid was a delight, and her movements, including balancés and little jumps, created anticipation of what might be to come. Andrew Shore was hugely entertaining as the prison governor, caressing the tenor and spraying champagne as if ejaculating. Perhaps the lawyer was a bit over the top, and Jan Pohl as Frosch the jailer went gloriously bananas as he jerked wildly on the floor, like an insect lying on its back.
Yes, it was becoming a bit wild, but then this is Fledermaus, where Dr. Falke plays an elaborate practical joke on his old friend Eisenstein to repay a previous joke the other way round. The word Fledermaus means bat, and images of bats were seen fluttering in the background as Richard Burkhard swept through as Falke in his bat costume. Later he appeared hanging from the rafters on a giant watch representing that which the disguised Rosalinde cleverly purloins from her disguised husband at Prince Orlovsky’s party in Act II.
This was a seemingly entertaining production, whose only warning of odd things to come was a brief essay in the programme by Alden himself, expressing his comparison of Dr. Falke to Freud, and jailer Frosch as “avatar of the fascistic impulse which swept Europe after the heady years between the wars”. Approaching this operetta from outside Europe, Christopher Alden sees this co-production with the Canadian Opera Company as an opportunity to give us a history lesson, so that what should be exhilarating fun becomes far too heavy, and as Act II morphs into Act III the quasi-military jailers crush the frivolous world represented by the prison governor. This light-hearted farce is not built to carry such weight, and the result becomes too stodgy.
The main leads, Tom Randle and Julia Sporsén, however, deftly wove their way through it all, and the music directed by Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim, in her ENO debut, was given excellent bounce and lightness of touch.
Performances continue until November 6 — for details click here.