Operetta directors often shy away from dialogue, presumably on the grounds that it gets in the way of the main musical business of the evening. Not so Edmunds Freibergs, director of Latvian National Opera’s Die Fledermaus, who let the full length spoken words play more than their fair share in turning this production into a very memorable evening. Not being from these parts, it was always likely that I would miss the name Pēteris Pētersons on the production's billing. But that's an omission: in Pētersons’ adaptation (updated by Freibergs), the humour came to life, transmitted to me only though surtitles and gestures (don’t ask about my command of Latvian). Characters were drawn with wit and the pace of the comedy was carefully timed: a slow start in Act I accelerated to manic in Act II, moving on to a distinctly absurdist feel in Act III which provided the perfect note of acidity to set against the frothy sweetness of Johann Strauss II's music.

Raimonds Bramanis as Alfred © Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
Raimonds Bramanis as Alfred
© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet

Going to the opera here is characterised by youthfulness and style: the building’s iconic white columns dominate the skyline; the audience is (on average) considerably younger and better dressed than its London or Paris equivalent; the singers are young and attractive. The clothes on stage, by Ilze Vītoliņa, were more stylish still: the attendees at the Prince’s ball in Act II were glammed up to the max. Mārtiņš Vilkārsis’ sets gave us splendid kitsch for the Eisensteins’ home (white tiger pelt included), immaculate elegance for the ball (drawing gasps from the audience) and a touch of the Magritte bizarre (featuring a strategically placed bathtub) for the prison in Act III. The three couples who came on to dance the Act II divertissement engaged in some seriously high rpm waltzing. In short, other than updating the setting to today, here was a staging that made no attempt to add a new spin to Die Fledermaus, merely one that executed the work as we know it with flair, panache and a generous dose of new gags.

Laura Teivāne as Ida, Inga Šļubovska-Kancēviča as Adele © Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
Laura Teivāne as Ida, Inga Šļubovska-Kancēviča as Adele
© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
Vocally, the ladies won the day, with top honours going to Inga Šļubovska-Kancēviča as Adele. She overflowed with energy and comic sparkle, while displaying some solid technique: rapid runs up to a closing high note were perfectly timed with the end note hit hard in the middle. Especially in her Act II “Mein Herr Marquis”, Šļubovska showed mastery of the operetta singer’s difficult knack of making her vocal phrasing fit the music elegantly while at the same time adding comic effect to each word. As Rosalinde, Margarita Vilsone is called upon to do all these things as well as adding pathos as the wife abused by a shamelessly philandering husband (albeit not entirely blameless herself). Vilsone accomplished all this and did a fine job of the the operetta’s show-stopping number “Klänge der Heimat”.

© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
The male singers all acted well, in every case putting across the nature of their character. Jānis Apeinis was the self-satisfied fop as Eisenstein, Raimonds Bramanis vain and filled with his own image as Alfred the tenor, Juris Ādamsons deviously bossing the show as Falke, Krišjānis Norvelis debonair and corrupt as the jailer Frank, Rihards Mačanovskis louche and world-weary as Prince Orlofsky (clad in ludicrous fur hat and backed by a couple of splendidly black-suit-and-sunglass clad heavies). Vocally, they all provided solid backup, especially in the many duets and trios, although there weren’t any performances of individual arias that will stay long in the memory, or voices that one would be confident to hear in a bigger house. Ādamsons had the strongest vocal presence, drawing one's attention whenever he sang.

© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
© Jānis Deinats | Latvian National Opera and Ballet
Jānis Liepiņš kept the orchestra lively and upbeat, winding up the level of sparkle gradually to its height at the end of Act II. But it’s the comedy that won the day, with Voldemārs Šoriņš stealing the show as the jailer Frosch: the perfect “straight man” as he worked his way through the ever increasing zaniness of Act III with complete deadpan. Maybe, as time goes by, I will see new and interesting takes on Die Fledermaus, and maybe I’ll see some with the musical fizz ratcheted up a notch higher. But they’re going to have to go some to beat this one for sheer style and entertainment.

****1