Prom 23 – Die Fledermaus: A Mixed Case!

Johann Strauss II
Die Fledermaus

Alfred – Pär Lindskog
Adele – Lyubov Petrova
Rosalinde – Pamela Armstrong
Eisenstein – Sir Thomas Allen
Dr Blind – Ragnar Ulfung
Dr Falke – Håkan Hagegård
Frank – Artur Korn
Prince Orlofsky – Malena Ernman
Ida – Renée Schüttengruber

Simon Callow – Narrator
Stephen Lawless – Glyndebourne production director

Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 4 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

For its annual appearance at the Proms, Glyndebourne Festival Opera presented a semi-staged version of its first-ever production of Die Fledermaus, which was uncorked a few weeks ago down in Sussex. The staging met with mixed reviews then and was seen there by this reviewer last week.

In some respects it fared a little better in the concert hall, largely owing to a rendition of the orchestral score delivered with style and real panache by the London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski, Glyndebourne’s new Music Director. The famous overture set the standard at once – a lovely lean sound, decidedly non-schmaltzy strings, plangent oboe playing and myriad details of orchestration registering unobtrusively throughout, in a way they often do not when the orchestra is pit-bound. It was a shame that the percussion was placed so far from the main body of the players as the Albert Hall acoustic provided some odd echoes at times. Tempi were generally on the fast side; there were some very deliberate but exciting rubati and accelerandi, but the evident enjoyment of the players and conductor was most infectious. This was an account played with real ’Schwung’ and proved ultimately the most satisfying element of the evening. Vintage bubbly indeed! Things bode well in the orchestral department for Glyndebourne if this relationship is maintained.

I wish I could be more positive about the “production” at the Albert Hall. Replacing the stretches of updated German dialogue we had at Glyndebourne, there was a specially written narration delivered by Simon Callow. Whilst it summarised the main plot well enough, it was often self-indulgent and arch – a little less would have meant so much more. There were a few topical gags that were very witty but it was questionable whether they really should have been there at all.

Die Fledermaus was considered risqué at the time of its origin and much of the satire is as relevant today as it was then. Some of the characters suffered as a result of this attempt to “modernise”, and there was little effort to really emphasise the fact that in Act Two nearly all the personalities are disguised in some way and pretending to be what they are not. I missed such moments as Eisenstein and Frank being introduced to each other as compatriots Marquis Reynard and Chevalier Chagrin and being forced to greet each other in bad French.

Much the same could be said of the acting of the singers. Some of it was just a little too knowing. Like good comedy, operetta is the more funny the more seriously it is played, and the moment the actors start to know they are being amusing then much of the humour is lost, the case here.

Some of the singing was very good – I liked the Adele of Lyubov Petrova, who has the coloratura to bring off her soubrette arias with aplomb even if her top notes are slightly uningratiating. It is quite a big voice and I expect it will not be long before Rosalinde is the part she might better adopt. She sang some peculiar German, but her performance was nonetheless most engaging and alive.

Pamela Anderson’s Rosalinde was most fun to watch when she wasn’t trying to be funny. She has an attractive voice with a nice creamy tone and she delivered her ’Czardas’ with some panache. I really liked her singing in the Act Two duet with Sir Thomas Allen’s experienced Eisenstein as they fought for ownership of the ladies watch – Eisenstein’s prop for seducing the women. In this duet he is unaware he is seducing his own wife in disguise and is beaten at his own game. Allen held the stage as only he can – he is the true operatic comedian with his excellent subtle timing and acting. Although his voice may not be quite as sappy as it once was he still uses it with flair and his German is excellent – one heard every word.

Håkan Hagegård sang well enough as Dr Falke, here deprived of the dialogue which is probably needed to make his role really register – at Glyndebourne he came over as a rather sinister character, here he seemed a bit of a cipher. The same problem afflicted Artur Korn’s otherwise genial Frank. Here the narration needed to concentrate on plot rather than one-liners so that we could understand the characters better.

Pär Lindskog’s open-voiced Alfred was all charm – the epitome of a self-regarding operatic tenor. Malena Ernman’s Orlofsky was a bit of a puzzle. When she started the opening couplets of “Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein” I though she was going to be great but her voice lacks some power at the lower end of the range and did not carry into the Albert Hall very well, and much of her attractive music was lost despite some sympathetic support from the conductor. It was a pleasure to see Ragnar Ulfung put in an unexaggerated cameo as Dr Blind. As always the Glyndebourne chorus sang well, albeit confined to the stage margins throughout.

So all in all a bit of a mixed case – some vintage bottles in the orchestra, some good rounded and mature ones in the singing department, and a few bottles on the production side that took the edge off one’s enjoyment of the evening.

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