It is an oft-remarked fact that one of the great joys of concert-going in London is access to three of the world's best conservatories and a glimpse at musicians who may come to dominate our stages and halls for decades. The Royal College of Music chose for its autumn production Die Fledermaus, that most famous operetta by Johann Strauss II which has come to epitomise and define Viennese light opera, in a superb staging by John Copley.

Julien Van Mellaerts (Eisenstein), Joel Williams (Dr Blind) and Gemma Lois Summerfield (Rosalinda) © Chris Christodoulou
Julien Van Mellaerts (Eisenstein), Joel Williams (Dr Blind) and Gemma Lois Summerfield (Rosalinda)
© Chris Christodoulou

Fledermaus is, as one character describes it, a domestic comedy, revolving around a light-hearted scheme by Dr Falke, to get revenge on his friend, Gabriel von Eisenstein for leaving him drunk on the streets dressed as a bat. Taking advantage of von Eisenstein's imminent eight-day prison sentence for disrespect to an official, Falke invites Eisenstein to a ball at Prince Orlofsky's villa with the temptation of "peaches and cream", arranging for both his chambermaid and his wife to be there, the former masquerading as an actress, the latter masked and impersonating a Hungarian countess. The operetta culminates in a delightfully Mozartian forgiveness scene and a repeat of the famous Champagne song to serenade the audience into the Viennese bars – or the English rain!

Copley's production was very much on the traditional side, which is really the way it should be for this work – too much directorial interpretation can very easily destroy it, but Copley was careful throughout to enable the work's inherent humour to shine through. I was impressed by the simple way he conveyed Warden Frank's intoxication in Act III with an animated portrait of Kaiser Franz-Josef and moving coat pegs, and he drew a particularly big laugh with a pig's head. (I shall say no more!) Stuart Hopps' choreography was superb; there was a large amount of dancing and it was performed seamlessly. The translation, done by Copley and Alistair Beaton was magnificent. Witty and relevant, it was perfectly tailored to Strauss' bubbles.

<i>Die Fledermaus</i> at RCM © Chris Christodoulou
Die Fledermaus at RCM
© Chris Christodoulou

This was not a production with a weak link, but easily the most dominating figure was Rosalinde, sung on the first night by Gemma Lois Summerfield, both in voice and in stage presence. Her voice carried easily and she handled her high notes with panache. I would like to hear her sing some late Verdi, to which her voice seems particularly well suited. As an actress, her outrage was a delight to behold and she delivered some of the best comic moments of the evening, as well as offering a genuinely moving “Klänge der Heimat”. Her foil, duplicitous husband Eisenstein was sung well by the baritone Julien Van Mellaerts. His is not the most versatile of voices, but he was reliable throughout, and was particularly strong in his trio with Rosalinde and Adele in Act I.

Catriona Hewitson (Ida) and Marie Lys (Adele) © Chris Christodoulou
Catriona Hewitson (Ida) and Marie Lys (Adele)
© Chris Christodoulou
Providing some of the most effervescent moments in the performance was Marie Lys, singing Adele. There were moments when her middle-voice wasn't quite able to push through the orchestra, but her high notes were of professional standard, hit without difficulty and well sustained. Like Summerfield, she demonstrated a consummate acting ability throughout the performance, hammy at moments, but appropriately so. I have rarely seen flouncing done with such flair.

Hammy is a word that easily applies to Katie Coventry's Prince Orlofsky. Donning a splendid moustache – and an even better Russian accent – she took on the role with relish, and was a match for her two female colleagues, bringing a careful mix of steel and playfulness into her key aria “Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein”. Her companion and entertainer, Dr Falke, is not given a great deal to sing, but Nicholas Morton was performing even when silent and his duet with Eisenstein, “Komm mit mir, zum Souper” was superbly sung, displaying richness of tone and superb phrasing.

The comic renditions of various Italian arias ironically showcased Peter Aisher's talents in that field in the role of Alfred. Routinely bursting into Lucia, Traviata, Rigoletto and more with a superb upper-register, Verdi devotees have a lot to look forward to in coming years. My only regret was that he frequently strangulated his high notes for comic effect. Timothy Connor's Frank shone in particular in Act III, but his voice is still slightly unrefined and was less remarkable than his superb acting.  Joel Williams and Catriona Hewitson both sang and acted well in the smaller roles of Dr Blind and Ida.

The chorus, prominent in the second act and the end of the third act, sang with gusto, lacking neither volume nor quality. The orchestra was on fine form, saturating the overture with whimsy and bombast, Michael Rosewell keeping this bounce going to the end. Judging by the quality of these young players and singers, British opera will be in good hands for quite a while.