Johan Strauss II
English National Opera
After the recent ridiculous controversy surrounding female conductors, it was a pleasure to be waltzed away by the eminently capable Eun Sun Kim. The players certainly focused on this fast-paced score, delightfully producing the frothy Viennese dance tunes.
Strauss's Die Fledermaus is one of the most famous fun-filled operettas, yet it's not been seen on the ENO stage in 20 years. Christopher Alden (director) makes sure this is a spectacle we're not likely to forget in a hurry with his debauched interpretation.
Extremely stylised in a dream-like sequence, Dr Falke (Richard Burkhard) swoops onto the greyscale art deco stage, controlling the plot from the outset. Engulfing protagonists in his giant wings and sending characters to sleep willy-nilly with a tinkle of his bell, there’s a more sinister edge to Dr Falke's practical joke plotting.
On the other end of the spectrum, Adele (Rhian Lois) has us giggling away, instructing 'bugger off' with her Stacey-esque welsh accent, and her sparkling singing brings us the famous laughing song with true aplomb. Unfortunately Alfred's (Edgaras Montvidas) untraceable accent is a ham-fisted bid for laughs, and, in general, the cast could screech less in their speech. It's grating and with 11 performances to go, bound to be detrimental to their superb singing.
Alden sexually charges the whole cast, all action revolving around Rosalinde's gigantic bed. Lecherous lawyer Blind (Simon Buteriss) humps Eisenstein's leg and slathers at Rosalinde before diving under the bed. Alfred strips off under the sheets, and Governer Frank (Andrew Shore) dives in to join them when arriving to arrest Eisenstein. Rosalinde (Julia Sporsen) adeptly distracts him, simultaneously singing and producing caressing footwork up his inner thighs.
As Eisenstein and Rosalinde think of the fun ahead, Allen Moyer's set cracks apart allowing the bright party light and revellers to stream through. The partygoers are a cross dressing chorus: sparkles, spangles, feathers and flesh.
In this deviant sexual playground Prince Orlofsky (Jennifer Holloway) resides, an infantile, depressed Russian, prone to powerful temper tantrums. With snake-like physilcality, Holloway plays the trouser role to perfection, flicking between raging rants and dismal moping at the drop of a hat.
Set in the 1920s (though the lewd costuming could be attributed to a modern-day fancy dress party), Alden homes in on the loosening of social constraints and the sexually liberating world that was emerging. With no specific location, it is reminiscent of the underworld of corruption and loose sex in twenties Berlin.
The party is broken up at the arrival of the other officers, led by Frosch (Jan Pohl), who, in one of many clever set changes, rips down the silken curtains revealing the bare-walled prison. Old-timer and party boy Governer Frank is contrasted heavily by the new wave of young officers who look on in disgust at his lax allowances. In Alden's Die Fledermaus there is definite nod to the coming Hitler Youth; the officers suppress and threaten the partygoers, and, as Frank's involvement is revealed, they even drag him from his desk.
The sinister edge and dream-like quality of the production works as a wonderful contrast to the froth and frivolity elsewhere. Unfortunately Alden has thrown a few too many heavy-handed gags which cheapen the already very funny staging. Alden should heed Coco Channel’s advice, ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory’, in this case the final desperate joke.
With the clumsier edges sanded, this production deserves to become a regular revival on the ENO stage, a true crowd pleaser with an edgier take.
Reviewer: Louise Lewis