Finland Strauss Lepakko (Die Fledermaus). Soloists, Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Alfred Eschwé (conductor). Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, 28.11.2014 (Premiere) (GF)
Gabriel von Eisenstein, Michael Kraus
Rosalinde, Alexandra Reinprecht
Frank, Nicholas Söderlund
Prince Orlofsky, Tai Oney
Alfred, Alexandru Badea
Doctor Falke, Jaakko Kortekangas
Doctor Blind, Juha Riihimäki
Adele, Claudia Goebl
Frosch, Timo Torikka
Ida, Elli Vallinoja
Iwan, Andrus Mitt
Direction, sets and lighting design: Marco Arturo Marelli
Costumes: Dagmar Niefind
Choreography: Aleksi Seppänen
Marco Arturo Marelli and his wife Dagmar Niefind have enchanted opera-goers in Helsinki before with very personal productions of Der Rosenkavalier, Falstaff and Pélleas et Melisande. When they now return with the greatest of the operettas, Die Fledermaus, they do it wholeheartedly and offer more than three hours – including an interval of course – of entertainment at breakneck speed and constantly busy action. One is even tempted to call it over-busy since things happen all the time and there is movement, running, jumping, dancing that makes even the onlooker exhausted. There is one moment of repose, however, and that is the musically most bewitching scene in the work, possibly the most bewitching scene in any operetta: in the party scene when suddenly the whole ensemble is quite still, most of the stage is dark and only a faint spotlight illuminates Falke who, centre-stage, sings Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein. Magic! Then, gradually, the party atmosphere is back, everybody raises his/her champagne glass and the tumultuous proceedings continue. And everything is great fun – though the musically thin last act is as always an anti-climax.
But Marelli makes the best even of that with the help of Frosch who has his big moments in a hilarious ‘duet’ with the imprisoned Alfred – can’t be described must be seen! Frosch is however part of the plat from the very beginning. When the curtain slowly opens halfway through the overture we see a backdrop with an air-view of central Vienna with bats in all colours flying about – 31 bats, my wife counted them! To the right, lying on the floor, someone is sleeping – or drunk – possibly both. Guess who – Frosch of course. Overture over he staggers up and tells us – in Finnish – that he shouldn’t be there until the last act but now that he is he could just as well tell us what is going to happen – and why. So we get the background story to “The Revenge of the Bat” as the operetta was originally called. And then he pops in and out of the story. There is in fact much more spoken dialogue than usual in this production – hence the length of the performance. Much of it is really fun with local jokes as well.
Frosch speaks Finnish but the surtitles deliver translations in Swedish and English and the operetta is sung in the original German. What else could it be with an international cast? In the pit Austrian Alfred Eschwé, since 1989 responsible for the operetta repertoire at Volksoper in Vienna and a Johann Strauss expert, ensures that the orchestra play with the right Viennese lilt. The overture is light and transparent and the inserted ballet number in act II, Unter Donner und Blitz, has tremendous go. The dancers, by the way, are true virtuosos. No fewer than three of the main singers are also imported from Vienna: Alexandra Reinprecht, whom I have admired at the Volksoper, is classy Rosalinda and sings Klänge der Heimat with abandon, as her husband Gabriel von Eisenstein we are treated to an explosive, sometimes over-the-top reading by Michael Kraus, great actor and a really expressive singer, and Claudia Goebl is a mercurial Adele and her glittering Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande in the last act is truly winning. Romanian tenor Alexandru Badea is a lustful Alfred and American counter-tenor Tai Oney makes a convincing Orlofsky, singing his part with an uncommonly strong and bright male-soprano voice, quite remarkable in fact.
The home-grown singers-actors are also well in the picture. Jaakko Kortekangas, the possessor of one of the finest Nordic baritone voices, is a superb wirepuller in the role of Falke, young bass Nicholas Söderlund sports some sepulchral low notes as the ebullient governor of the prison and Juha Riilimäki stutters his way through the role of Doctor Blind.
A final word about Timo Torikka, the Frosch of the evening, who is a well merited actor on stage and in films, also internationally. This evening he finally crowned his career when he was allowed to sing in the opera house.
A lot of drinking, a lot of reeling, a lot of running, a lot of shouting – but also a lot of great acting, and a lot of great singing. Maybe some of the characters could have been a mite soberer – I don’t believe the upper classes of the Viennese society in the 1870s boozed quite as much … But fun it was.