Die Fledermaus Production Photo: Bradley Quinn
Die Fledermaus, or The Bat if you prefer, is, at its foundation, very much the epitome of every NI Opera produced under artistic director Walter Sutcliffe’s tenure – very strong in concept and unique in both visuals and musicality. The overall focus and humane ideas have not always been as strong, but we can be assured of their strength this time in what is a sumptuous and epic production even by Sutcliffe’s standards.
Look at that set, to start with. Andrea Kaempf’s design is a hall of mirrors, silhouettes and vignettes, as rich in personality as the dramatis personae who inhabit it. Dressed up in the most unexpected of costumes (Batman? Robin? They’re both there) and given, at times, the most distinctly Belfast brogues, the likes of Ben McAteer, Alexandra Lubchansky, John Porter, a spellbinding Maria McGrann and – yes – May McFettridge devour and defy the rules of Strauss and opera to present something very powerful and very personal, aided energetically by Jennifer Rooney’s choreography and linguistically by a laissez-faire and unorthodox English libretto.
Truthfully, it is vocally variable and structurally haphazard – some of the more powerful arias lose their distinctive resonance in a rather excessive amount of tomfoolery. But on the other hand, I can’t see myself ever forgetting what NI Opera have done here. There is a very Moulin Rouge vibe here, like a big party where all the water has turned into wine and you’re forced, not compelled, to surrender to the dubious enchantment under the sea of prideful duplicity which lies over a bed of genuine love. This, Sutcliffe and Strauss surmise, is what may happen when we throw ourselves into dreams which, deep down, we know cannot be fulfilled – the price of surrendering to hope and being burned.
Die Fledermaus runs at Belfast's Grand Opera House until Saturday September 21. For more information, click here.