Whatever one thinks of Die Fledermaus, with its seemingly endless waltzes and polkas and, beneath the glittering surface, its stiff-necked Austro-Hungarian views of class and society, it is undeniably appropriate for a laid-back and undemanding evening under the stars. This time of year in Perth is normally one of balmy cloudless nights with the occasional gentle breeze, but unfortunately on this occasion the breeze became a very brisk and chilly easterly. Not only did this spell discomfort for the lightly clad audience, but it came close to spelling disaster for the performers and the production. All must be congratulated however for carrying on with aplomb under genuinely difficult circumstances, to the satisfaction of the c.20,000 audience in the Supreme Court Gardens, and doubtless those watching the simulcast in regional towns Bunbury and Geraldton.
Directed by home town baritone Andrew Foote, the locale of the operetta, sung in English, was transferred to Perth, with references to local landmarks and topical subjects, a ploy which always attracts audience appreciation. The action took place on quite a large temporary stage, with the orchestra located behind the singers, who were necessarily amplified. The action was pretty much fully-staged, with a limited set but well-engineered comings and goings. Large screens on either side of the stage ensured a good view of the action from most areas, assisted by English subtitles. The wind however was not kind to the amplification, which rumbled throughout; it also played havoc with the musician’s scores, with conductor Richard Mills (artistic director of the WA Opera) visibly holding his in place with some sort of large heavy tool. There was also a noticeable set malfunction, with a collapsing box within which Alfredo lurked needing to be repaired by a couple of kabuki-style technicians.
Despite the difficulties, the work was well-performed, and received with appreciation. Orchestral playing under Mills by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra might have been a bit heavy-handed for the conventional concert stage, but understandable here. The West Australian Opera Chorus carried on in professional style.
Rosalinde was sung by Katja Webb, a young award-winning Perth-born soprano now based in Germany. Once rather stiff on stage, she has matured into a graceful performer, both vocally and visually. Much of the acting on display was rather broad, again no doubt of necessity, but Webb was able to carry off her impersonation of a Hungarian countess in bravura style and glamour. She was well garbed in svelte modern outfits. Her voice has a lovely pearly sheen discernible even through the growling speaker system, and she sang the coloratura parts with accuracy and grace. Jennifer Barrington sang Adele in a more rough-hewn style with little finesse, but her voice was bright without the shrillness evident in last year’s Mikado. Louise Fenbury is the possessor of an interesting rich mezzo, perhaps heading towards contralto, voice, but she doesn’t always make the most of it. Her incarnation of Orlofsky was quite stylish in an all-white evening suit, and she managed to convey a convincingly louche male quality. Her accent was quite over the top, but then so were they all when not speaking in their natural voices.
David Hobson is something of an Australian heart-throb, with a light quite fine grained tenor, but he is not always cast in appropriate material. Here he seemed to be enjoying himself as Eisenstein, looking rather disheveled, as well the character might under the circumstances. Also having a fine old time was David Woodward as Alfredo, producing some suitably fruity Italianate sound. He spent most of the performance in singlet and shorts with a flimsy robe and one could only pity him, and the women in their light gowns, in the cold wind. Baritone Robert Hofmann is a variable singer, but always puts in an interesting characterization, and his Dr Falke was no exception. Younger baritone Sitiveni Talei was an amusing Dr Blind, and Harriet Marshall (Ida), Christopher Lewis (Frank) and Matthew Lester (Frosch) were all stalwart in their contributions. That a large percentage of the audience stayed put as the night wore on is in itself quite a tribute to the performance.