Sometimes life is just too hard. It really is. When we are drowning in work, bills and taxes, your flatmates have stolen the last of the milk and another disastrous relationship is coming to an end, all you want to do is drink it all away.
That this could be the overall theme of an 1870s opera is hard to imagine. But watching Strauss’s famous operetta Die Fledermaus you quickly realise that things haven’t really changed much since then. Alcohol still drowns our sorrows, as the chorus merrily belt out.
Die Fledermaus still speaks directly to its audience about our deep desire to break out of the little black box of problems and commitments society has put us in, and indulge in hedonistic pleasure, free of morals and obligations.
Eisenstein is due to serve a short prison term after a civil offence. Not knowing his wife is being serenaded by the overly passionate tenor Alfred, he prepares for his eight day sentence as Dr Falke, an old friend, arrives at the scene. Falk convinces Eisenstein to attend Prince Orlofsky’s ball instead of going to jail, and in his absence his wife Rosalinde is visited by her hot-blooded tenor. But when the prison governor, Frank, arrives to escort Eisenstein to jail, Rosalinde passes off Alfred as her husband so as to protect her reputation and Alfred is sent to jail.
Revenge and pleasure collide as Orlofsky’s party takes off with Eisenstein posing off as a French Marquis. With his maid present, pretending to be an actress, Frank the prison governor waltzing around in heels and Rosalinde in disguise as a Hungarian countess, ready to catch her husband being unfaithful, the night is bound to be a very toxic, hedonistic cocktail.
Die Fledermaus really is as relevant now as ever. Opening in 1874, barely a year after the Black Friday crash of Viennese Stock Exchange, it seems almost a parallel to our financial situation today. For nearly three hours we can dream… Daniel Dooner and Stephen Lawless’s translation is modern, fun and full of young spirit that connects very well with a twenty-first century audience. The cast are impressive with beautiful vocal performances all around. The first act takes off quite slowly, with the dialogue being muffled a bit by accents, but as we hit the second act and Orlofsky’s party, the narrative flows beautifully and the cast seem to glide gracefully through the chaos.
Jennifer Holloway’s Prince Orlofsky is pure genius, as she not only has a voice of a goddess but acts with such commitment and depth that it’s hard to take your eyes off her even when she’s just in the background. Where the acting seems second priority with many of the soloists, she truly manages to create a character that is as intriguing to watch as listen to.
What really drives this performance is the phenomenal set design by Allen Moyer. Einstein’s babe-magnet pocket watch hangs on stage throughout the performance, and hypnotises cast and audience alike as desire unfold. Coupled with Constance Hoffman’s adventurous and cheeky costume designs it really is a production that seduces the eye.
Though we are charmingly swept through the despair of the lives involved in this sexy party, depth is still to be found in this production as Strauss’s tantalising score flows under your skin. And what a treat it is to find a female conductor in charge of the night.
Director Christopher Alden’s production of Die Fledermaus is a great ‘first’ for anyone who hasn’t experienced opera before. It’s light, fun, sexy and awfully charming. A very tasty treat in hard times.
Die Fledermaus is playing at ENO until 2 November. For more information and tickets, see the English National Opera website.