BY TANYA THAWEESKULCHAI
Die Fledermaus by Strauss
The Independent Theatre, 25 April
Operantics’ adaptation of Die Fledermaus makes the light-hearted and comedic opera welcoming to non-operagoers; done so without compromising either the storyline or the musical achievements of its arias. Set in 1950s Manhattan, the show’s opening sequence has the filmic qualities of the Golden Age Hollywood era. The illustrations on the background slides provide a cohesive sense of space, supporting the ethos of the era and enhancing the practical stage design.
The entrance of the conductor and the character Adele traversing the stage sets an energetic pace, introducing Adele as a woman who chafes at her status as a lady’s maid. When Adele makes up the fiction of her dying aunt, she is at risk of being cast as a typical manipulative helper who doesn’t know her place. Of course, with the secrets, lies, and disguises scattered throughout the opera (I counted approximately 11 of these devices), we discover that Adele is only the one who sets up the pattern of repetition in the story. It is then less about her character – the issue of a sexist and classist construction of character becomes a past potential. Though it is evident that archetypes are not done away with completely, rather, they may even be necessary for the hilarity of the opera.
Die Fledermaus’ well-known revenge plot is divided into three parts, with the set design of each making full use of the space available. The unchanged set between the first and second acts lends the opera a sense of self-containment, juxtaposed by the illustrated slides that mark the change of place and progression of time. The effective use of floor space builds tension and rhythm on a small stage through the characters’ physical movement and gestures, however, a part of me was wishing for a change in stage design and lighting in the second act to further augment the difference in tone of the domestic scene and the frenzied liveries of Prince Orlofsky’s party.
Having watched both Saturday and Sunday performances, it was a delight to see different performers take on the same character – each manifesting differently, yet keeping the essence of their character, thereby challenging the prescriptive ideas of how, say, a comic prince should look like and behave. Further, this showcases the performers’ strength as singers and actors. The costumes also change between casts, accommodating the performers’ interpretation of their characters. Adele is less sexualised on closing night; the effect – achieved through action, costume, and the combination of an almost child-like portrayal of the character and her manipulative behaviour – makes her particularly compelling.
Dr Falke is the anchor to which the opera revolves. It fits with the plot’s array of masking and unmasking that he is at the centre of the story, yet he is, in a sense, hidden: Falke is the instigator of the scheme, but he mostly remains at the peripheries. His actions become increasingly apparent, with certain moments of foreshadowing placing him momentarily in the spotlight as the opera progress. The story of the bat is told twice, the second iteration revealing Falke’s reclamation of his control of the narrative. It becomes apparent that he is responsible for the subsequent unfolding of the night’s events.
The gradual divulging of Falke’s intentions throughout makes the grand conclusion satisfying – but this strategy is not original. It is the cast’s persuasive acting that strengthens the set-up of Falke’s patient and sinister plans which belie his deep anger and resentment. Each character’s action encourages the audience to assume simplistic motives, while holding back other possibilities not yet considered by the audience. The deliberate confusion and red herrings contribute to the engaging, chaotic cohesion of the storyline. Rosalinde’s indecision and the prince’s flamboyant and temperamental treatment of his guests rope together romantic entanglements, deceits, and mistaken and false identities. What makes this push and pull hilarious is the fact that the prince is painfully direct, never concealing his adoration or annoyance towards the attendees of his party.
Die Fledermaus was my first opera, and due to my lack of knowledge about the music and vocal techniques I’m unable to critique these aspects of the performance, however, when a performance is particularly strong, even an untrained ear can discern a notable accomplishment. I immensely enjoyed the singing by the whole cast – I thought it was strong on both nights, even if Sunday night’s performance seemed livelier. Jessica Harper was especially inspiring.