Estonia Strauss, Die Fledermaus: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the St. Petersburg Chamber Opera / Maksim Valkov (conductor). Estonian National Opera, Tallinn, 4.6.2017. (GF)
Stage Director – Yuri Aleksandrov
Sets, Costumes and Lighting Design – Vjatseslav Okunev
Choreographer – Irina Saronova
Gabriel von Eisenstein – Vsevolod Kalmõkov
Rosalinde, his wife – Sofia Nekrasova
Adele, maid at the Eisensteins – Karolina Sapolova
Alfred – Vladislav Mazankin
Falke, theatre manager – Denis Ahmetsin
Blind, barrister – Leonti Saljenski
Prince Orlovsky – Jadgar Juldasev
Frank, prison governor – Viktor Aleskov
Frosch, jailer – Juri Borsjov
Jailer’s assistant – Dmitri Grigorjev
Lackey – Anton Morozov
Lightning – Nikolai Mihalski
Prisoners – Anton Morozov, Efim Rastorgujev
The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera was founded in 1987 by director Yuri Alexandrov as an alternative to the city’s established theatres. There are more than fifty theatres in St. Petersburg and the Chamber Theatre, as it was originally called, was a place for new and creative ideas from the very beginning. “The living opera” and “a searching theatre” were epithets used very early on. Since 1998 the company has had its own venue in the mansion of Baron von Derviz. The three-day guest appearance at the Estonian National Opera was ample proof that this is a truly “living” company: the freshness of the approach, the superb acting and the vocal splendour – not always to be taken for granted with more experimental companies.
But far from turning everything upside down – which could have been expected – this Fledermaus was basically traditional but with some interesting twists. It was performed in Russian and there were no surtitles, which was a problem for this reviewer, whose knowledge of that language is limited to a few words, and there was a great deal of spoken dialogue, considerably more than usual. The performance lasted more than three hours and fifteen minutes, including one interval of roughly 30 minutes. But those in the audience with a better knowledge of Russian enjoyed it greatly – and there are many Russian speakers in Tallinn. The story had been transported in time to somewhere in the early 20th century but the carefree atmosphere of the original was there in a lavish production with spectacular sets and precious costumes. However, towards the end of the Act II party scene, when the ensemble sang “Duidu, Duidu”, film footage was projected showing canons, tanks and sinking warships, a reminder that the great war was drawing hear and this happy-go-lucky existence would soon be a mere memory.
There were some amendments and changes to the original plot and also some redistributions within the musical number. For instance, in the party scene the lines “Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein”, before the entire ensemble joins in, were sung by Orlovsky and not by Falke as in the original, but this mattered little. This Orlovsky was here a virile and handsome bass-baritone, far from the blasé and sometimes androgynous snob one usually sees. He was a splendid dancer as well and the ballet had many opportunities to show off its moves.
If readers are wondering what ‘Lightning’ stands for in the cast list, I can reveal that Nikolai Mihalski’s only task was to stand by the side of the orchestral pit and rattle a big sheet of metal as Alfred tried to seduce Rosalinde in the Act I. The poor woman, scared of thunder and lightning, jumped into Alfred’s arms every time she heard the rattle. Quite amusing. And the whole performance was permeated by humour of a gentle kind, never overstepping the limits of good taste. Of course Frank, the prison governor, was thoroughly tipsy in the final act, but Juri Borsjov was a soberer Frosch than most I have seen and even though the scene where Eisenstein dresses himself up as barrister was just as longwinded as usual, it had its moments.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the singing was excellent and best of all were the two ladies. Sofia Nekrasova’s Rosalinde was suitably silly in the first act but acted with great noblesse in the remaining ones, and her “Klänge der Heimat” was impressively vocalized. Karolina Sapolova was a delightful Adele, a born comedienne – her imitation of a dog in the first act superb – and in “Spiel’ ich die Unschuld vom Lande” in the last act she shone both as an actress and with her glittering soprano. This was certainly the highpoint of the performance.
With excellent playing from the orchestra – they opened the proceedings with a riveting version of the wonderful overture – combined with singing and acting on a high level and sensitive directing, this summed up to a great evening at the theatre. Visitors to St. Petersburg should definitely try to see a performance by the city’s Chamber Opera.