Freudian Fledermaus

15 Oct

For all its supposed popularity, Die Fledermaus seems to have been a bit out of fashion here recently.  The last ENO production was in 1993 and the last major revival was at Glyndebourne, in 2006.  In the 60s, 70s and early 80s everybody seemed to do it as a popular piece of frothy operetta.  Managements seem less comfortable with it now – or is it just too expensive?  Either way, I was glad that ENO were getting round to it again and I saw the performance of their latest production, by Christopher Alden, on 9th October.

My partner loathes Fledermaus, finding it smug.  I think that, like many operettas, it poses difficulties for us.  There’s a generation that thinks of it as nice piece of froth, dressed up in lovely Strauss waltzes, at which you can leave your brains in the cloakroom  and wallow.  The music itself connives at that but nobody seems to dare to do it like that in the UK.  Pehaps they shouldn’t.  Although the plot is a fairly simple one of sexual infidelity dressed up as an elaborate joke, there’s a pretty strong element of social satire.  It would be enormously easy to update to the present day and could make us question a society of conspicuous consumption on champagne and ambivalent attitudes to monogamy.

Alden doesn’t quite do that.  He takes an approach which recognises its 19th century provenance, moving to the hedonism of the 1920s interrupted by the repression of the 1930s.  Falke is a Freudian psycho-analyst, Orflofsky one of his deeply troubled patients, Frank a cross-dressing homosexual who caresses the naked Alfred in Rosalinde’s bed. Frosch is a nazi thug who interrupts the party with shots and shouts of “rausch, rausch” and beats up Frank.  There’s also a sense that the whole thing is a dream – party guests appear to have jumped out of bed and Falke sends Rosalinde to sleep and wakes her up at crucial moments  As a picture of the contradictions and history of Vienna, it’s fascinating.

As ever with this Alden, it can feel fragmentary, the ideas almost random, but I found that they interested me and made me think about the piece and that it refreshingly avoided all the usual clichés of this operetta.

So this made for a really interesting visual experience.  However, I felt that the casting didn’t quite work and made the evening feel rather low key.  It’s good to have a tenor Eisenstein, but Tom Randle didn’t seem to me to be entirely comfortable in the part – the voice sounded a bit ragged and I didn’t feel that he projected it that well.  Julia Sporsén seemed to me to have similar problems as Rosalinda – she sang it nicely (a good Csardas) but perhaps spending most of the time on the bed isn’t the easiest basis to establish a character.

The minor characters made more of an impression.  I enjoyed Rhian Lois’s cheeky, Welsh Adele, Jennifer Holloway’s manic depressive Orlofsky and Edgaras Montvidas’s lascivious Alfred.  Richard Burkhardt was a good Falke but would probably have benefitted from a smaller theatre (as, frankly, would almost everyone).  Andrew Shore was, obviously, excellent as Frank but this production didn’t give much opportunity for him to take the limelight as Franks often can.

Eun Sun Kim conducted.  It struck me as a very competent performance but not one that grabbed me particularly or made me feel that she particularly stamped her personality on the music.  It’s not idiomatic in the way that Kleiber or Jurowski have been.

So not a perfect performance, but one which made me think and also reminded me of the glories of the music.

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