Flying blind

OPERA Die Fledermaus Scottish Opera
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The last thing Scottish Opera would want to find in a review of its new Fledermaus would be a reference to its last production - a clever- clever updating to 1990s Glasgow and a spectacular flop. But clearly it was a chastening experience, and Giles Havergal, director of the new version, was given a clear brief: no fancy ideas, no left-wing iconoclasm, just plenty of pretty costumes and traditional nostalgia.

There were, in fact, a few witty ideas. Alfred, the Italian tenor (camped up to the skies by Richard Coxon), constantly serenaded the heroine with extracts from famous operas, including both Boheme and Turandot, which were presumably not familiar to Strauss or anybody else in 1874. Though most of the show was sung in English (the well-established Pountney / Hancock translation), the Csardas was given in Hungarian with English surtitles, a hilarious operatic in-joke.

That apart, the sets were ravishing and the costumes unexceptionable, placing the piece a little later than its time of composition, perhaps about 1910. Havergal, director of Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre, is a resourceful man of the theatre, and he kept up a seamless flow of song-and-dance numbers and attractive tableaux, his designer (Kenny Miller) doing little more than paint huge flowers on the wallpaper and surround the stage with fairy lights.

Most of the cast had a nice, intuitive, light-footed swing; eventually the whole stage lilted and swayed to the rhythms of polka and waltz. Janis Kelly was a colourful, sumptuous Rosalinda, thoroughly physical and susceptible, with Peter Evans as a slinky and handsome Eisenstein. Andrew Hammond's Falke seemed at first a bit recessive, but his "Bruderlein" was a dream of lyric tone.

When it came to costuming Orlofsky, clearly nobody was ever going to disguise Anne Howells as a man, so she wore an intriguing combination of high boots and feminine decolletage that matched her mettlesome but seductive voice.

But success cannot be designed into a production, and this attractive show witnessed to the elusiveness of the work. Lisa Milne, as Adele, sang beautifully - a pearly "laughing song" - but her comic gifts extended no further than Glaswegian howls and catcalls. This sly, ironic operetta makes no sense as broad farce, and neither Milne, Havergal, nor any of the others seemed to have grasped the danger and despair that lie hidden within it.

Instead, they gestured and high-stepped along on the merest surface, where they were joined by a conductor, Nicholas Braithwaite, who groped vainly for the right style, jerking when he should have effortlessly floated and slithered, never finding a convincing tempo or any trace of cunning or delicacy. With no message from the podium, the orchestra just sight- read manfully. Maybe Fledermaus is about bad behaviour redeemed by generosity of spirit, or the sorrowful charm of a society that is slipping away. Whatever its sidelong and sophisticated content, it is vastly beyond the larks of a seaside concert-party.Further perfs: tonight, 18, 20, 22 Feb, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (0141-332 9000)

Comments