Die Fledermaus at the RNCM

You might have thought that, for a performance by students, Die Fledermaus would be considered a pushover; but you would be wrong. Musically, Viennese operetta requires, above all, style in vocalisation. Then there is the large amount of spoken text, not always easy for those for whom accompanied recitative is the norm. Nor should the difficulties of convincingly portraying a mid-19th century fun-loving society be under-estimated.

The Royal Northern College of Music, in their pre-Christmas show, facilitated the undertaking in several ways. First, the work was given in English, in a first-rate, witty and racy translation by conductor David Parry and director Stephen Barlow. Second, the setting was successfully updated to a near-contemporary Kings Road Chelsea in which dalliance and boozy fancy-dress parties are commonplace. Add to this David Parry’s experience in the musical idiom, imparting the necessary lilt to the waltz rhythms, as well as, defying his years, by leading the orchestra with youthful energy. Stephen Barlow’s production too drew on his accumulated stagecraft knowhow, yet also came across with a freshness because, in devising suitable manifestations of “Posh Men Behave Badly”, he developed innovative ideas, albeit risking an excess of slapstick comedy.

As Rosalinda, Oliva Tringham was the undoubted star singer. Her sumptuous lyrical soprano moved easily from full volume to scaled down pitter-patter and her nuanced three-dimensional characterisation of a wronged wife had more than a flavour of Mozart’s Countess. It was not easy for Conrad Chatterton, as her husband, to compete with this, but he was an engaging, agile Eisenstein and while the part (often sung by a tenor) lay somewhat high for his comfort zone, he was able to reveal the richness of his baritone in Act Three when pretending to be the lawyer Blind. Katherine Glinka had all the attributes of a soubrette, pertness and a light sparkling voice, for the maid Adele, but was unable to resist the temptations of overplaying the comedy.  Chinese tenor Yihui Wang was an appealing laid-back Alfred with an attractive timbre, while Dominic Mattos, a male falsetto Orlovsky, benefiting from his earlier career in pantomime, enlivened proceedings at the ball. Callum McCandless made more of the role of Inspector Frank than is usually encountered.

The performance was dedicated to the memory of Joyce Kennedy who, with her late husband Michael, had done so much to foster vocal studies at the RNCM. Tribute was paid by the College’s current President Sir John Tomlinson who, to the great delight of all, made a cameo appearance on stage in Act Two, singing in his still cavernous bass The Song of the Flea.