United Kingdom Johann Strauss II, Die Fledermaus: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / James Southall (conductor), Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 27.10.2017. (RJF)
Rosalinde – Judith Howarth
Eisenstein – Mark Stone
Adele – Rhian Lois
Alfred – Paul Charles Clarke
Falke – Ben McAteer
Dr. Blind – Joe Roche
Colonel Frank – Alan Opie
Prince Orlofsky – Anna Harvey
Ida – Angharad Morgan
Ivan – George Newton-Fitzgerald
Frosch – Steve Speirs (spoken role)
Director – John Copley
Revival Director – Sarah Crisp
Designer – Tim Reed
Costume Designer – Deirdre Clancey
Lighting Designer – Howard Harrison
Choreographer – Stuart Hopps
Chorus Master – Stephen Harris
Unusually WNO issued two programme, books for this season at Venue Cymru. The first of 198 pages provided extensive coverage, in Welsh as well as English, of the three operas presented as The Russian Revolution Season, seemingly dedicated, if that is the word, to the centenary of the bloody 1917 Bolshevik events in that country. The three Russian season operas were only given once, even the relatively well-known Eugene Onegin! Whether this was facing the reality of likely box office take up I do not know, particularly whilst observing the rather sparse audience for Janáček’s From the House of the Dead. However, there are few operatic ways of putting bums on seats and lifting the heavy tone than a sparkling production of Johann Strauss’s scintillating confection Die Fledermaus, particularly when there is added comedy as given by Steve Spiers as Frosch, the prison governor who, unusually I gather from an orchestra member, even engaged in repartee with the pit. That was on the Friday evening, whether he made the same impact on the matinee performance the next day I do not know, whatever, I gather the performance was well attended. The work was performed in the production by John Copley, with sets by Tim Reed, and costumes by Deidre Reed, first seen in Llandudno in 2011, when it has been the much-anticipated replacement of Calixto Bieto’s 1995 crude and vulgar production that had never been reprised. Perhaps with an eye on the box office, and the end of the half-term holiday, it was reprised on the Saturday, unusually as a matinee performance.
The production, set and costumes are traditional, a fact welcomed, I suspect, from a very full house who were enthusiastic throughout. I could not help casting my mind back to Bieto’s production. I had travelled to Oxford, a journey of over a hundred and fifty miles, and bought expensive seats. Going to the theatre with friends influenced my decision not join the large numbers who walked out at the interval, an action I have only done once in sixty odd years of opera going, and then to my chagrin hearing my friend’s comment that if they had not gone with my wife and I they too would have joined the large exodus!
It is no accident that Copley’s 1964 production of La bohème has only recently been retired at Covent Garden. He has the detailed touch, given the right cast to bring out on stage the nuances in the music, touches that are alive and kicking in this revival where the added acting and humour of Steve Spiers were an additional plus. Of the singers Judith Howarth as Rosalinde brought vocal strength to her interpretation if not with the acted élan exhibited by Rhian Lois as Adele her maid. An excellent actress it was as though the part had been written for her vocal and acting abilities. As Orlovsky, were his antecedents an intended link with the Russian season I wondered, was well acted and sung with vocal aplomb by Anna Harvey with the addition of a pleasing stage presence. On the male side, Paul Charles Clarke moved, sang and acted well as the semi-cuckolded husband getting his just deserts. Mark Stone was less convincing as Eisenstein the arch manipulator of the revenge plot on his sometime friend.
With James Southall in command of the orchestra having a delightfully light touch the performance lifted my heart. I wished that I could have stayed for a second dose of this reviver at the matinee, but family duty called elsewhere, and I drove home humming the tunes from the work. Whatever the justification of its inclusion in WNO’s Russian Season the performances sent a lot of people home happy after the earlier quite heavy musical fare.
Robert J Farr