On an unsuspecting Easter Sunday in 1874, at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, the most successful operetta of all time, was launched – a comic story of revenge where characters cheat and lie, pretend and deceive, mock social conventions and get drunk on champagne. The operetta has some of the best waltzes and polkas ever written (there’s even a czardas thrown in for good measure, which produces a change in pace), and concludes in a remarkably forgiving reconciliation scene that leaves everyone rejoicing in a “happy ever after” outcome, and toasting the event in a joyful paean to the delights of Champagne.

Adam Goodburn (Eisenstein) and Desiree Frahn (Rosalinde) © Ali Feo
Adam Goodburn (Eisenstein) and Desiree Frahn (Rosalinde)
© Ali Feo

Nearly a century and a half later Die Fledermaus is still going strong. State Opera of South Australia has combined with The Elder Conservatorium, one of the leading music academies of Australia, to present a free flowing effervescing version set in modern day Beverly Hills – a fun night played for entertainment and laughs, replete with beautiful music and singing. Under the baton of Timothy Sexton the Chamber Ensemble of the Elder Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra were a sparkling accompaniment, typified by percussionist Andrew Chan who seemed to really enjoy putting his all into his playing.

This production set the Eisensteins in a Beverly Hills mansion, Prince Orlovsky (a Russian refugee in exile) in a nightclub and it all ended in the Beverly Hills Police lock up. The language was American English, loosely translated and contemporary in idiom. The cast were both good singers and well-rehearsed dancers, as well as great comic actors, none more so than Tasmanian Sarah-Jane Pattichis, whose Adele, the Eisensteins' maid who assumed the guise of Khloe (in this production), an aspiring actress at Prince Orlovsky’s party. Pattichis with a strong, commanding enjoyable soprano voice and a crass American accent, whether talking on her mobile phone or begging her employer’s permission for a night off. Her Act II laughing song “My Lord Marquis” was exquisite.

Courtney Turner (Orlovsky) with Elder Conservatorium © Ali Feo
Courtney Turner (Orlovsky) with Elder Conservatorium
© Ali Feo

Beau Sandford excelled as the Italian tenor, ex-lover, of Rosalinda, wife of Gabriel von Eisenstein, about to be taken to prison for assaulting the policeman who had arrested him for playing Pokémon on his phone while driving. Sandford, a comic with great timing, was a pleasant, rich tenor, whose ‘Drink my darling’ and ‘Night and Day’ were sung with wonderful confidence and his various Act III gaol song snippets of opera favourites equally enjoyable.

Rosalinde, the wife of Eisenstein and disguised as a Hungarian film star at Prince Orlovsky’s party, was played by the remarkable Desiree Frahn. She portrayed a Rosalinde who could command her husband, her maid and the gaoler who came to her home, and continued to command at Orlovsky’s club, but was helpless when confronting former lover Alfred’s advances. Her singing was rich, her czárdás, even in English, had a gravitas that brought a moment of reflectiveness to the party, where all the guests wore black, including sunglasses, the waiters wore blue lipstick and Orlovsky a blue beard. It was a time for selfies and Instagrams. Courtney Turner was a remarkable Orlovsky, her rich, deep mezzo-soprano commanded attention. She had all his/her guests fawning in rapt attention. She made the most of “chacun au son goût” and its reprieves.

Karina Jay, Sarah-Jane Pattichis, Beau Sandford, Desiree Frahn and Adam Goodburn © Ali Feo
Karina Jay, Sarah-Jane Pattichis, Beau Sandford, Desiree Frahn and Adam Goodburn
© Ali Feo

Joshua Rowe, with a carefully shaped kiss curl, brought a warm tenor flavour to his Doctor Falke, the man seeking to take revenge on Eisenstein for an earlier embarrassing, but far from forgotten, practical joke which left him dressed in public as the bat (the “Fledermaus” of the title). He had invited Eisenstein, Rosalinde, Adele and Frank, the prison governor, to the party – all with assumed identities – in the hope their antics would embarrass Eisenstein, and at the same time amuse the bored Orlovsky. The finale of Act II, a rousing song to the joy of a night full of drinking champagne and dancing, even included a dance step or two from the Rocky Horror’s Time Warp.

Life in the police lock-up was a shambles, overseen by Frosh, a drunken gaoler, cleverly played by Timothy Sexton whose hamming up of the role got many laughs (”How do you recognise a tenor? He can’t find the key, and doesn’t know when to come in!”), joined by Andrew Turner, the drunken superintendent, who was at his best in the final scene (a much better gaol superintendent than shonky lawyer, a role he played in the first act).

This was a performance the audience enjoyed. The sparkle of Strauss’s effervescent music, especially his waltzes and polkas, shone through. The sets were uncluttered. The cast members were obviously having fun, their singing exciting, their acting and dancing contagious.