Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh reviews the Spectacular Classics concert at Symphony Hall, enjoying an evening of stunning performances.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 20th November 2017
Review: Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus at the Hippodrome
Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews a fabulous performance of Die Fledermaus, an operetta about deception, revenge and romance
Last week saw the return of another substantial Welsh National Opera season to the Birmingham Hippodrome, comprised of Eugene Onegin, Die Fledermaus, From the House of the Dead and Kovanshchina. The impressive offering is sure to attract seasoned fans of opera, but what about those who can perceive opera to be inaccessible? If my experience with Strauss’ Die Fledermaus is anything to go by, those perceptions are almost certainly misplaced – whether an opera veteran or an almost novice like myself, it proves to be a fabulous night for all.
Die Fledermaus, an operetta by prolific composer Johann Strauss II, and translated here to English by David Pountney and Leonard Hancock, is a pretty perfect mix of romance and deception, with characters becoming involved in a plot for comic revenge that very quickly verges on absurd. While her husband Eisenstein is due to spend time in prison, Rosalinde looks forward to spending time with an ex-lover who makes a reappearance at her house. Her maid, Adele, asks for time off, intending to secretly attend a party being given by a visiting prince. However, all soon become embroiled in a plot orchestrated by De Falke, Eisenstein’s friend who once fell victim to his prank, and in their various disguised they attend the lavish party, leading to a night full of revelations and splendour.
“Whether an opera veteran or an almost novice like myself, it proves to be a fabulous night for all
As has always been my experience with the Welsh National Opera, the performances are exceptional throughout. Having recently performed in the WNO’s Madame Butterfly, Judith Howarth is a commanding presence as Rosalinde, who plays her part in the deception perfectly. Howarth’s voice is wonderful to behold, conveying moments of hilarity and irony mid-phrase to wonderful effect. The song in which she attempts to convince her fellow party-goers that she is indeed a countess is rather good fun, as are the duets with those around her throughout the show, with a particularly brilliant moment falling early on as she laments the supposed tragedy of her husband’s incarceration.
Paul Charles Clarke plays Alfred, Rosalinde’s ex-lover, with a wonderful sense of comic timing, benefitting from some moments of hilarity that adapting the show with nods to the modern context has afforded. His character can apparently sing operatic songs ‘in 15 languages’, and with a voice like Clarke’s, it is a statement one is inclined to believe.
Mark Stone portrays the bumbling, unknowingly pranked Eisenstein as painfully unaware of the irony of his situation, giving a great joy to the audience as well as the actors around him. Anna Harvey makes her WNO debut as the Prince, an in-trousers role that she performs with great effect, showcasing a fabulous voice as she sings “Chacun à son gout”.
Perhaps a welcome surprise within the cast is Steve Spiers, who many might recognise from TV show Stella, or films such as Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest. Spiers makes his WNO debut as Frosch, the prison gaoler, and his performance capitalises on his comedic experience with an act three opening few minutes that have the audience in hysterics. There are moments where his jokes address the audience directly, and another where he jokes about the orchestra and conductor, adding another layer of engagement that seems to delight the audience.
Standout amongst the cast is Rhian Lois as Adele, Rosalinde’s maid. Her vocal ability is astounding, singing both beautiful arias and delivering the more hilarious lines with equal aplomb. She gets many of the asides to the audience, and her feisty, indignant and utterly relatable Adele is a scene stealer.
“A timeless moment that sweeps the audience up as if we were amongst those dancing in their splendour on stage
The first act opens the operetta perfectly, with the major players being introduced, and the groundwork for the deceptions laid before our eyes. The set is a lavish home, spiral staircase and balcony providing some comic moments as well as impressive grandeur. The second act, centred on the party itself, is a sumptuous affair that features magnificent moments of beauty as well as hilarious moment of brilliant comedy. The entire cast, bedecked in Deirdre Clancy’s fabulous costumes, sing sweetly in unison at one moment, swaying in time to a romantic waltz. The combination of Strauss’ simply breath-taking score, Tim Reed’s design and Howard Harrison’s superb lighting, and the swell of the cast’s vocals, come together in a timeless moment that sweeps the audience up as if we were amongst those dancing in their splendour on stage.
Die Fledermaus is a perfect example of an operetta that can be enjoyed by every audience member. Sung through in English, and with a balance of comedic moments and soaring arias, wonderful duets and witty one-liners, it has something for everyone. It also goes to show – opera isn’t just for a select few. Whether it be Die Fledermaus, or any of the other operas either the WNO or other companies have to offer – go and see what you might have been missing out on.
More information on this Welsh National Opera season can be found here.