, January 2005
"Other than Franz Lehár's later "Merry Widow," Johann Strauss II's 1874 farce "Die Fledermaus" (The Bat) has few rivals for the top ranking among Viennese operettas. It has a surfeit of sophisticated tunes, plus rhythms as addictive as any drug; moreover, the plot has wit and grit - things few grander operas (beyond Mozart) can boast in tandem. As with any operetta, charm of cast and setting are key. The U.K.'s 2003 Glyndebourne Festival "Die Fledermaus" had charm to burn, with a first-class cast and sumptuously amber-hued, fin-de-siècle scenic design.
There is plenty of theatrical fizz in this champagne-fueled party, thanks to director Stephen Lawless and a saucy update of the spoken dialogue. As with any Viennese conception, there should be world weariness underneath the exaggerated gaiety. There's that, as well as attempted infidelity and accomplished insult amid the waltzing insouciance. The acting by all is of film quality, playing as well to the camera as it must have in the Glyndebourne venue. The music swings, too, with Vladimir Jurowski a suave conductor and the singers in sparkling voice.
Veteran English baritone Thomas Allen is ideal as the aging rake Eisenstein, as is Hakan Hagegard as his friend and prankster-tormentor, Falke. All the women are strong, with Pamela Armstrong a diva-like presence as Eisenstein's wife, and Lyubov Petrova alluring where others are flighty as her frustrated chambermaid, Adele. In the trouser role of the Russian Prince Orlofsky, mezzo Malena Ernman is wonderfully idiomatic and droll.
Allied to the BBC's high-end audiovisual production is Opus Arte's usual flair for making the most of the DVD format (including well-translated subtitles). The extras include featurettes on the waltz and on the architecture of Glyndebourne's new opera house, as well as interesting interviews with Allen, Armstrong, Hagagard and Jurowski. There's also a generously appointed booklet."