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The Revenge of the Bat is a better title for this insubstantial piece of Viennese musical farce. Its only claim to a place in the modern repertoire is a series of wonderful songs that need superb singers to do them justice – this enjoyable production by West Green Opera just about makes the grade, but not even a talented and hard-working cast of singers and chorus can lift the comedy above the mundane. Maybe it was funny in Vienna in 1874 – it doesn’t really make the grade in 2019.
Falke is determined to get his own back on his friend Eisenstein for a practical joke a few years earlier which led to a drunken Falke waking up on the streets of Vienna dressed as a bat and having to face the ridicule of the townspeople. He plans to persuade Eisenstein to go to a masked ball at Prince Orlofsky’s mansion, where he will encounter his wife and his maid – and the governor of the prison where Eisenstein faces a week in custody – all in disguise. Falke sets up Eisenstein to proposition his disguised wife Rosalinde, who is masquerading as a Hungarian countess. She extracts a treasured pocket watch from her husband which she will use to prove his attempted infidelity. The next morning in the prison, where a lover of Rosalinde has been jailed in mistake for Eisenstein, all is revealed, all is forgiven, and the whole thing is blamed on an excess of champagne.
There is little value in pointing out once again all the holes in this ludicrous plot, which borrows a good deal from Cosi fan Tutte and Figaro but entirely misses their sense of a real world that underlies the comedy. Director Richard Studer makes the best of the thin material by setting the action in a trio of gilded cages, turning the female chorus into Broadway showgirls and the male chorus into rejects from The Village People. But the singers in the main roles sometimes seem to find it difficult to get the right balance between crude comic action and beautiful singing and some of the comic scenes don’t quite hit the mark.
Peter Van Hulle plays an increasingly bemused Eisenstein with a bizarre combination of wit and bluster – his disguise at the masked ball as a French playboy is wafer-thin. As a rather aloof Falke, Benjamin Bevan has a lovely baritone voice – all honey and gold – but the role provides too few opportunities for us to enjoy it. Jana Holesworth as Rosalinde and Galina Averina as the maid Adele carry the burden of the firework-filled songs that have earned the piece its reputation as a showcase for soprano virtuosity. They both sing with absolute assurance – and all credit to Holesworth for making the most of her role as a late stand-in – but the physical comedy was all a bit laboured and just not funny enough. The minor roles were all well sung – Rebecca Afonwy-Jones was a convincing Orlofsky and Johnny Herford gave the befuddled prison governor Frank a nice sense of right-and-wrong.
The set sparkled – as did the opera orchestra under the cultured baton of Jonathan Lyness – some splendid string playing stood out. Die Fledermaus offers real pleasure in the wonderful setting of the gardens of West Green House – and all credit to the team there for putting on such a musical treat as festival curtain raiser.
- Composed by Johan Strauss II
- Libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa
- Directed by Richard Studer
- Conducted by Jonathan Lyness
- Performers include: Peter Van Hulle, Jana Holesworth, Benjamin Bevan, Galina Averina
- West Green House Opera