Frivolous and fun-filled, the return of Opera Australia’s 1996 production of Fledermaus is the perfect antidote to Melbourne’s pre-winter blues.

 Opera Australia State Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne   Wednesday, 12 May, 2010 FledermausFrivolous and fun-filled, the return of Opera Australia’s 1996 production of Fledermaus is the perfect antidote to Melbourne’s pre-winter blues. 
A light-hearted, satirical opera by Johann Strauss II, it was originally conceived as entertainment for the Viennese elite in the early 1870s, a time when the waltz was the latest dance craze,  champagne flowed by the bucket-load and reckless hedonism was being questioned following the crash of the Vienna Stock Market.
This production, directed by Lindy Hume, shifts the action to New York in the 1930s, a similar period of decadence and extremes following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Essentially a tongue-in-cheek parable about the excesses and infidelities of the upper class, the opera follows the elaborate revenge of Dr Falke (Warwick Fyfe) on his friend Gabriel Eisenstein (David Hobson) for leaving him many years ago in Central Park dressed as a bat after a boozy New Years Eve party. 
Recreating the glamour of 1930s New York, the sets are cleverly designed by Richard Roberts and open on a Manhattan penthouse with a sweeping curved staircase, wall-to-ceiling views of the Chrysler Building and neat little touches like a wheel-on Art Deco cocktail trolley. Ok, so I wanted it.
Hobson deftly reprises the role of the dashingly superficial Eisenstein and Antoinette Halloran is equally mischievous and charming as his wife Rosalinde. Both performers are completely at home in operetta, adept at bringing out the wit of each song yet never faltering in their vocal dexterity, phrasing and clear, bright tone.  
Also reprising her role in the original production is Amelia Farrugia as the couple’s wily maid, Adele, complete with garish red hair and Lucille Ball-like dizziness. Like Hobson and Halloran she is rock solid vocally especially in My Lord Marquis or what is often called Adele’s Laughing Song when she bumps into her boss at the same New Year’s Eve bash and tries to convince him she is not his maid but a famous actress.  
In contrast, Catherine Carby is suitably urbane as exiled Russian Count Orlovsky, a bored host of fashionable, invitation-only parties and a co-conspirator in Dr Flake’s plan to exact revenge on Eisenstein.Gary Rowley is well cast as Frank, a police superintendent who is supposed to escort Eisenstein to gaol for eight days for assault. And Steven Smith as Rosalinde’s long-lost Italian admirer Alfred is in fine voice although a little too exuberant at times. One of the many clever touches of this production is an appearance by Yvonne Kenny as Marlene Dietrich – complete with top hat and tails – at the height Orlovsky’s fancy dress ball. You could hear a pin drop on opening night during her rich, mellow tribute to the 1930s screen and cabaret legend.
However, despite good performances, there is a distracting sloppiness about the production from a visual point of view. Although the chorus sing and act well, some of the staging of the big waltzes is too busy and we lose the lyrical lines of the music in favour of lack-lustre drunken antics and awkward asides by the principal cast that are not sharp enough to cut through the background swirl.
Likewise not all of the added dialogue is necessary and at times it actually slows the production down. For example, the monologue for gaoler Frosch (Paul Blackwell), which opens Act III is certainly clever and well-performed – it’s a nice conceit that he would be writing a crime novel in his spare time – but it’s too long and wears thin by the end when the house lights go up and we have to endure a few tired old jokes about doctors and lawyers making up an opera audience.
Although it doesn’t quite ‘ping’ like the strings of a taut violin, this Fledermaus is still uplifting and is jam-packed with gorgeous waltzes, carousing drinking songs and witty little ditties to make just about anyone swoon.  Bookings Ticketmaster on 1300 136 166, www.opera-australia.org.auor in person at the Arts Centre Box Office 

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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