Warmth, Wit and Charm in Ellen Kent’s Die Fledermaus

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Johann Strauss II, Die Fledermaus:  Soloists of Chisinau National Opera, Members of the Orchestra of the National Opera & Ballet Theatre of Moldova ‘Maria Biesu’ and National Philharmonic of Moldova ‘Serghei Lunchevici’, Vasyl Vasylenko (conductor),. Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 17.11. 2015. (MC)

(c) Ellen Kent Productions
Die Fledermaus (c) Ellen Kent Productions

Strauss, Die Fledermaus (Sung in English)

Libretto by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée,
Based on the play Le réveillon by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy,
English translation by Ruth & Thomas Martin (vocal score)
Spoken dialogue by Olga Gusan, adapted by Ellen Kent

Cast:
Gabriel von Eisenstein –  Ruslan Zinevych (tenor)
Rosalinde, Eisenstein’s wife – Alyona Kistenyova (soprano)
Adèle, maid – Maria Tonina (soprano)
Frank, prison governor  –  Iurie Gisca (baritone)
Prince Orlofsky – Zarui Vardanean (mezzo-soprano)
Alfredo, singing teacher  –  Ruslan Pacatovici (tenor)
Dr. Blind, lawyer – Yurii Hoyaniuk (tenor)
Dr. Falke, notary  – Ruslan Pacatovici (tenor)
Frosch, jailer –  Vladimir Dragos (speaking role)
Guests at Prince Orlofsky’s party (chorus)

Production:
Direction: Ellen Kent
Assistant: Ruslan Zinevych
Assistant Producer: Juliet Bath
Lighting: Valeriu Cucarschi
Production manager: Neil Morton

 

The magnificent architecture of the Grand Theatre, Blackpool designed by Victorian architect Frank Matcham made an impressive setting for the Johann Strauss II’s  much loved operetta Die Fledermaus. It was good to welcome back an Ellen Kent production with her now familiar Moldova team and I warmly recall a splendid Ellen Kent staging of La Traviata also at the Grand Theatre earlier this year.

The same attractive yet relatively simple set featuring a large ball room with four steps up to a balcony was used throughout with different touches for each of the three acts. More music hall than opera, I admired the illusion of late-nineteenth century Viennese glitz that had all the fizz of Moldovan champagne. An added twist was the adding of local Blackpool vernacular to the English text that would not have been out of place in a 2015 Coronation Street script. One of a number of clever touches was the maid Adele wearing a tangerine and white striped outfit, the same colours as the town’s football team. Surprisingly there was also some political satire which amounted to cheering or booing when the names of certain political figures were read out such as Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Josef Stalin. Congratulations are due for the highly attractive period costumes which were mainly formal wear with tails and white tie for the men and striking ball gowns for the women.

Outstanding was heroine Maria Tonina as Adèle the bubbly chambermaid who gets above her station. As the soprano grew in confidence her appealing voice remained strong, sustaining her high register well. Eye-catching in her red and gold hoop ball gown Tonina’s flirtatious and spicy performance was impressively wholehearted and the perennial audience favourite, Adèle’s ‘Laughing Song’ from Act 2 was sparkling. I remember Maria Tonina giving a fine performance as Violetta Valery in La Traviata here back in March. Ruslan Zinevych excelled as the rather juvenile gentleman Gabriel von Eisenstein who didn’t look at all worried about his imminent stretch in Prison. Displaying a steady and confident tenor, Zinevych is a fine actor, delivering his humorous lines effectively. Another terrific performance was given by Alyona Kistenyova as Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, revealing her bright and focused soprano with noticeably powerful top register. Conspicuously seen in a white hoop dress and latterly at the masked ball as a Transylvanian Countess robed in a stunning black lace ball gown Kistenyova has considerable stage presence and is clearly comfortable with her acting.

Zarui Vardanean in the trouser role of the vodka imbibing Prince Orlofsky was decked out in a white suit with light blue sash. A company stalwart, Vardanean’s confident acting just radiated enthusiasm despite her singing being a little out of sorts. Brilliantly conveying the comedy part of Frank the incorruptible prison governor who overindulges on Moldovan champagne Iurie Gisca demonstrated his secure and richly sonorous baritone. Almost permanently surrounded by wine bottles Vladimir Dragos made much of the speaking role of Frosch the humorous drunken jailer. The traditional guest appearance was Roger Lloyd Jones the chairman of the Blackpool Theatre Trust who commented on the pair of champagne fountains and gave a creditable rendition of Irving Berlin’s musical number Let’s Face the Music and Dance. Conductor Vasyl Vasylenko was consistent with his group of musicians maintaining a steady pace throughout, generally managing to ensure unity. Although using an English text none of the cast had English as their first language so the surtitles proved useful.

This colourful Ellen Kent production of Die Fledermaus was infused with warmth, humour and considerable charm ensuring a wonderful evening’s entertainment on a stormy November evening at Blackpool.

Michael Cookson

See www.ellenkent.com for details of the 2015 autumn tour (which also features Tosca  and Carmen and visits Northampton, Leicester. Coventry, York, Sunderland, Grimsby, Hastings, Dunstable, Croydon and Folkestone finishing in December)  and the 2016 spring tour.

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