Monday, 20 October 2014

Opera Danube's Die Fledermaus at St. Johns Smith Square ***


Lauren Zolezzi and Dominic Sedgwick - Photos taken by Sebastian Charlesworth.
The overture of Die Fledermaus is a splendid treat often played in any party involving champagne and lavish festivities. Johann Strauss II composed this comedy opera in 1876 and was inspired by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy's play Le Reveillon. It represents the golden age of Viennese music and is a promising opera, which encompasses the ideal attributes of a fine 'Viennese' banquet experience.
Opera Danube has come a long way since the success of their last production The Merry Widow. They've put initiatives in place to teach opera to hundreds of local children through their Education Project. Their production of the tickling farce Die Fledermaus, a two-evening affair, at chandelier heaven St. Johns Smith Square was operatic as much as it was cosy and intimate. It wasn't engineered to shed deeper thoughts on the opera but to simply portray an enjoyable party of Strauss' glorious score.
Under the direction of Simon Butteriss, who also sung as the narrator, Opera Danube’s talented opera singers, Orpheus Sinfonia, and the London Oriana Choir proved enthusiastic and adamant to celebrate the New Year's eve ball through their separate roles done with glamour, heart and might, but in the silly lighthearted way. 
[Left to Right: Gildon, Buckland, Sousa, Sedgwick, Zolezzi and Symonds Joy - Photos by Sebastian Charlesworth.
With long dialogues replaced by a narrator to act as a go-between (to hurry the opera along), and with St. Johns Smith Square’s prop-less semi-stage, opera singers managed to get away with singing ceremonially, waltzing and committing fleeting acts of adultery. The setting is disclosed through the singers’ flamboyant dresses and dashing suits: dinner jackets; posh waistcoats; barrister wigs; demure; and sequined dresses too. However, nothing indicated it’s original mid-19th century setting. In fact, the humour was palpably circa 2014! 

There was a joke about Nigel Farage, the Euro, and, even, the Eurostar. There was also the fundamental cunning joke that brought the opera closer to home - possibly the question on everyone’s mind, ‘what's the opera got to do with a bat?’ since die fledermaus means ‘the bat’ in English. These jokes are added in equal measure to retain the audience’s attention and to ensure they're familiar with the drama.
Rosalinda (Johnson) and Eisenstein (Eisenstein) Photos by Sebastian Charlesworth.
The storyline of the opera is similar to The Marriage of Figaro, but only just. Our lead married couple, Rosalinda (Elinor Rolfe Johnson) and Eisenstein (Thomas Herford) are so fed up of each other that they are willing to commit infidelity. This leads them to conjure a  revenge plot to their supposed friend Dr Falke (Dominic Sedgwick). He was victim of a costume mishap that got him the nick name "die Fledermaus”. 

The comedy of scheming involves an old flame (Alberto Sousa), a chambermaid dressed in a French maid outfit called Adele (Lauren Zolezzi), a lawyer (Simon Butteriss), a prison warden (Robert Gildon), Adele’s sister (Felicity Buckland), and a wealthy Russian who is actually a woman (Kate Symonds Joy). Faulk concocts a variety of disguises which tempts Einsenstein into seducing his wife who he thinks is a Hungarian countess. In the end, happiness relieves the tension and all is forgiven. 
 
It was a calculated decision by Butteriss to cut out the dialogue and leave the singers to do what they did best - sing and awe audiences. As our narrator moved from one joke to the next, fine singing flowed sleekly from our talented crew. Sousa had the deep Casanova voice to entice any lady, not just Rosalinda. Sedgwick also had a handsome charm in his refined timbre and Zolezzi seemed to show love for her giddy role as she added flourishes to her high notes. Orlofsky, who I had seen before at Opera Erratica ’s Triptych, charged in with feistiness and chic even if she played the trouser role. And Buckland performed exquisitely as an actress but – unfortunately - didn’t get to test her vocals much as she did in Opera Up Close’s Marriage of Figaro. The London Oriana Choir were on top form too. 
[Left to Right: Symonds Joy, Sedgwick, Johnson, Zolezzi and Buckland. Photos by Sebastian Charlesworth.]
The Orpheous Sinfonia conducted by Oliver Gooch foretold a Viennese tale through an ingenious score, yet I found that some of the percussions instruments got in the way; the funny noises and use of a drum (which sounding like a military drum) drowned out the glossiness of 19th century decadence including the singers' voices. Perhaps a lighter touch would have welcomed a more finesse sound.
Johnson and Herford had the toughest roles as lead characters and although diligent and powerfully led there were moments of strain, which I heard. These moments, however, that didn’t counteract the overall effectiveness of their stage presence.  With Gildon too, I sensed he spent more time shouting than singing songs as a velvety baritone.
Nevertheless, these remarks on these operatic performance didn't destroy the entertainment or comic value of the show. The story was direct and clear. We knew who was who and what everyone was tying to achieve. As a result it was a fun evening and many of the audience members would agree.Welcome 2015!

These performances took place on October 17th and 18th. Click here for more information.
A press ticket was provided courtesy of Opera Danube's PR company used for this production.