Welsh National Opera's very welcome revival of Die Fledermaus is a jolly good romp! From the opening bars of the overture, the outstanding orchestra and chorus ensure the pace, wit, and elegance of Strauss’ most famous operetta never falters. Tomáš Hanus conducts with confidence, the orchestra plays with style and careful phrasing, giving the singers the perfect performance platform and opportunity to epitomise the gaiety and sentiment of Viennese life, shaken in 1873 by the Black Friday stock exchange crash.

Die Fledermaus: “a jolly good romp”
© Bill Cooper

As the supreme master of the genre, Strauss deservedly became known as the Waltz King. Die Fledermaus, composed in just six weeks, soon became one of the mainstays of musical life in the city as the Viennese put the economic shock out of their minds. Thankfully, WNO’s exceptional performance helped Birmingham’s big audience take their minds off the social and economic problems making the front pages today.

Mary Elizabeth Williams (Rosalinde) and Mark Stone (Eisenstein)
© Bill Cooper

John Copley's production, revived here by Sarah Crisp, permits the big house to enjoy the overture without the on-stage distractions currently in vogue. The 'batty' plot is not to be taken too seriously; however it accurately reflects the shocking behaviour of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the professional classes at the time. Fledermaus has the lot, reflecting Strauss’ contribution to nurturing escapist collective memories in Vienna. Added to Hanus’ effective conducting, designer Tim Reed delivers the most gorgeous sets with a first act spectacular spiral staircase, the uncluttered garden for the society party in the second act and the transformation of the jail into the charming party guest-filled final scene which, although terribly unreal, shows a high degree of creativity and genius. This charm, this creativity, this strong support from the pit allows the singers to thrill. Many do, not least the sparkling, provocative and suggestive Mary-Elizabeth Williams as Rosalinde, the naughty wife of the eccentric Gabriel von Eisenstein, the fall guy finding himself in all sorts of trouble. Mark Stone delivers the required ridiculous performance. Shaun Dixon stars as Rosalinde’s outrageous lover; he’s a New Zealander with first-hand experience of working with Pavarotti and it shows. Stealing the show in Birmingham was Welsh soprano Rhian Lois singing the engaging role of Adele, the chambermaid with lots of ambition.

Angharad MOrgan (Ida), Alan Opie (Frank) and Rhian Lois (Adele)
© Bill Cooper

Eisentein’s friend Dr Falke, creates the chaos and havoc that develops in a vengeful act for an earlier misdemeanour after heavy drinking at a fancy dress party. He was abandoned by his friend in the marketplace dressed as bat. Ben McAteer keeps his wits about him as he persuades Prince Orlofsky, the Russian millionaire to host a villa party. Adele joins in the fun pretending to be Olga the aspiring actress.

The party theme is a domestic comedy, The Revenge of the Bat. Inevitably, too much champagne is consumed resulting in a chaotic mixture of disguises and wrongdoings. However, all ends without serious incident. Even the normally bored Prince Orlofsky, sung with an admirable Russian accent by Emma Carrington, looks slightly amused at the chaos.

Soon enough, Dr Falke feels his revenge is complete as he exposes himself as the ‘bat’. Forgiveness is requested, some given, some rejected and Adele moves on from chambermaid to a career as an actress. Rhian Lois' diction is so good, the audience was able to dispense with the surtitles and concentrate on the fun games as the excellent comedic action continues apace.