The Welsh National Opera
Johann Strauss II
The Liverpool Empire Theatre
November 10, 2017
REVIEWER: Miranda Humphreys-Green
“Take your pleasure while you may,” asserts Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, and that’s not a bad summary of this light, comic operetta, brought to Liverpool’s Empire by the Welsh National Opera.
Composed, apparently, in six weeks by Johann Strauss II to cheer the Viennese up after the Black Friday stock exchange crash of 1873, it’s a fitting sentiment. Strauss’ musical gift combines the frothy confection of light-hearted plot with cheerful oompah waltzes and assertions that champagne is the answer.
Set during Carnival, a pre-Lent period of balls and roistering, the characters inhabit a kind of Twelfth Night period of impropriety and confusion. Adele, a chambermaid, receives an unexpected invitation to the Russian millionaire, Prince Orlofsky’s, ball. Her master, Eisenstein is sentenced to a brief spell in prison but is persuaded by his old chum and sparring partner, Falke, to report to gaol at dawn and instead spend the evening at the ball where he is sure to indulge in “peaches and cream.” Meanwhile his wife, Rosalinde, is wooed by an old flame, Alfred, who is mistakenly taken into custody by the prison governor, Colonel Frank, understandably believing him to be Eisenstein because there he is seducing Eisenstein’s wife in Eistenstein’s very dressing gown.
Rosalinde then repairs to the Russian’s ball, in the masked disguise of a Hungarian countess, where she meets her maid wearing one of her dresses and her own husband, who, thinking her a glamorous stranger, attempts to chat her up.
Falke confides to Orlofsky that he is the author both of the forged invitations to the ball, and the subsequent farce, which he has perpetrated as an act of revenge for an occasion where Eisenstein abandoned him, drunk and dressed as a bat, in the street one night after a fancy-dress party. After a narrative too complex for even the characters themselves to grasp, everyone ends up at the town gaol, Falke declares it is the revenge of the bat and they all agree to blame any misunderstandings on the champagne.
Singing in English, the WNO played this absolutely for laughs. Which is, of course, very much the point. With spoken dialogue breaking up the music, this is not opera-real with its tragedy and thundering tunes, but instead something much more accessible and a lot more fun. This is brought to the fore during the third act when the gaoler, Frosch, gives us something akin to a stand-up routine where he lampoons everything from Alfie Boe to the Cornetto advert via the Three Tenors, thereby citing pretty much everything the layman knows about opera.
All this, however, is not to take away from the WNO’s absolute, real-deal talent. Rhian Lois demonstrated particular clarity with her Adele, and the double act of Ben McAteer’s Falke and Mark Stone’s Eisenstein who had to fake French credentials – “Filet de boeuf, soixante neuf” – were particularly amusing.
So, if you fancy something to take your mind off Austerity Britain and you’re not exactly an opera buff but you like a tune, don’t be put off by the foreign language name of this operetta – it’s basically a bit of European Gilbert and Sullivan.
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