A man in a suit coming onstage and addressing the audience before the overture is never a good sign, usually to announce an indisposed singer or even a conductor stuck in traffic, so there was a sigh of relief as we quickly realised that this was Dr Falke’s little practical joke on us. Die Fledermaus is Falke’s revenge on his friend Eisenstein, Falke explained carefully as he flipped the Article 50 pages of his clipboard. With the political heat turned up in the UK and across Europe, director Lee Blakeley’s casting of Eisenstein as a blustering Conservative Minister out of his depth on a European mission was a masterstroke, for all the best comedies have their dark side.

<i>Die Fledermaus</i> © Julie Howden | RCS
Die Fledermaus
© Julie Howden | RCS

Blakeley’s production was full of fun from the first notes of the overture which accompanied Eisenstein, his wife Rosalinde and maid Adele in a loopy crazed silent comedy breakfast scene, choreographed to the last note of the final exhilarating dashing flute runs. The European jokes started gently as Eisenstein planted small English flags in the table arrangement, producing a very British teapot and British tea from his ministerial Red Box.  

Alistair Beaton’s libretto, peppered with contemporary additional material, kept to the spirit of the piece and though not a literal translation, sparkled with wit. Act 1, in a white modern apartment and its balcony, kept the momentum going, setting up Falke’s plot perfectly with some superb split second comic acting. The voices (most roles are double cast) were individually strong and blended well together in ensemble. Australian Joanna Norman’s mischievously manipulative Adele and Charlie Drummond’s impressive Rosalinde matched each other in vocal agility while American tenor Chase Henry Hopkins was a convincingly bluff Eisenstein. Richard Shaffrey’s love-sick Alfred added oodles of romantic tenor, until he was packed off to jail, Russian baritone Alexey Gusev every inch a skilful fixer. The wonderful tunes kept coming with the famous Trio as everyone recognised the evening’s possibilities, a highlight.

<i>Die Fledermaus</i> © Julie Howden | RCS
Die Fledermaus
© Julie Howden | RCS

Designer Mark Bouman had a field day with Orlovsky’s ‘Anything Goes’ party on split levels featuring a 15-foot high champagne bottle. It was packed with detail from the 30-strong chorus in oddball black and white attire, not only in great voice but managing tricky stage moves as the deft choreography from Kally Lloyd Jones kept things very lively. Annabella Ellis as Orlovsky had a light voice, but made up for it in sheer verve, warming very quickly to Falke’s plans. Adele’s laughing song was a tour de force, mostly delivered while being carried to and fro across the stage by a pack of the chorus. An instant referendum on whether the party should get to hear Rosalinde’s Hungarian Czardas was won by 52%, but a little chill ran through the party as the chorus, the men in patriotic sashes, sang directly out at us as the European Flag was projected onto the set. Serious point taken, it was back to the nonsense, the Champagne, the waltz and lots more hi-jinks.

Following on from the party exuberance, Jamie MacDougall, moonlighting from BBC Radio in an army camouflage kilt and muckle boots as Frosch the jailer, had us in stitches. Choosing appropriate beverages for his well-known inmates – Nigel likes English beer, so he gets Belgian (don’t tell him), there was plenty of fun with our other national drinks. Adele’s aria and a wonderful trio maintained the energy to the finish as all the loose ends were tied up in a fizz of champagne and fun.

© Julie Howden | RCS
© Julie Howden | RCS

In the pit, the student orchestra conducted by Timothy Dean played with Viennese dynamism, delivering tune after wonderful frothy tune – it really sounded like they were having their own party down there. It is a nice touch that all the creatives and back-stagers are given their biographies alongside the cast in the programme, a reminder that the students from Technology and Management, Production and Design are also building their careers alongside the singers.

Timothy Dean arrived as Head of Opera in 1994, responsible for new postgraduate courses in opera training for singers and repetiteurs. Die Fledermaus is his final production as he stands down from the role at the end of this academic year, although he will continue to work with RCS Voices and other projects. Dean played a critical role in the expansion of the Alexander Gibson Opera School and has helped to establish collaborations with organisations including Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh International Festival and the conservatoires in St Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don. The international list of singers passing through Glasgow’s opera training has been as impressive as the opera performances themselves. Leaving Europe will throw up all sorts of problems for the arts, but this production of Die Fledermaus is a heartfelt, rousing and grateful Salut to the opera boss.