Arts / Silly ‘Fledermaus’ gets the vintage treatment

Keren Dalzell (as Rosalinda von Eisenstein) and Andrew Barrow (as Gabriel von Eisenstein) in “Die Fledermaus”.

“DIE Fledermaus” (The Bat) must be one of the silliest operettas ever written – and just about the most tuneful.

With a plot predicated on unconvincing disguises, twists and turns, with a bit of adultery and jail time thrown in, it was composed by Johann Strauss II and first staged in Vienna in 1874. It features perennials such as “The Laughing Song” and “The Champagne Song”.

Now Canberra Opera is tackling this tuneful farce in a production by Karyn Tisdell that’s been in the making since December.

As Tisdell tells “CityNews”: “It’s not easy and it’s quite long – three acts – with a lot of dialogue in it and quite a long cast of singers who’ve never had to learn a lot of dialogue, so I thought it best to have a longer period of rehearsing, but it’s always good to have new blood.”

Tisdell played the tragic Sister Angelica in Puccini’s opera of the same name and in the title role as the vicar of Dibley last year for Tempo Theatre. That was her first foray into “straight” theatre and into Belconnen Theatre, where “Die Fledermaus” will run.

Karyn Tisdell .

She then accepted Canberra Opera’s offer to have a go at directing her favourite operetta, “Die Fledermaus”, thinking: “I can bring my performer’s hat to it as I understand how to move while preserving the singing voice, so I can give the singers a little bit of help.”

“I was looking for something different to do, something a bit lighter after two big tragedies [“La Boheme” and “Sister Angelica”], a bit more entertaining, the music is just wonderful and audiences just love it,” she says.

Tisdell’s production of “Die Fledermaus” has 20 performers, which is to her mind “not a massive cast… but the Belconnen Theatre is not all that big, so we couldn’t have fitted in 40 chorus members”.

They’re using the new English translation and musical arrangement by Ian Gledhill and there’s 40 per cent more for the chorus to do, with lyrics added to turn orchestral music into song. They open the first two acts playing tradespeople, dance goers and jailbirds.  

This “Fledermaus” has been updated from the 19th century to circa 1955, she says. A self-confessed retro-dresser, Tidsell says, she loves vintage and wears 1950s-style dresses herself.”

The set by Mel Davies is also from the 1950s, with the first scene in a London (not Viennese) apartment, the second “ballroom” scene in a garden and in the final scene in jail, with the entire cast on stage.

She says she didn’t want do something traditional and was influenced by Lindy Hume’s production for Opera Australia set in Manhattan during the 1930s.

“Nineteen-fifty-five was the end of 14 years of rationing, it was the time of the Dior New Look, it seemed to slot in perfectly,” she says.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Tisdell says, praising the musical director Kathleen Loh and her stars, Keren Dalzell and Andrew Barrow as Rosalinda and Gabriel von Eisenstein. “But there are lots of challenges, having to cover everything, the directing, the costumes and the publicity; I have my fingers in every pie.”

She feels sure the high point will be “The Champagne Song” where everyone’s on stage. “It’s so wonderful that people will want to sing along with it – “I guess a bit of humming doesn’t hurt,” she says.

Canberra Opera presents “Die Fledermaus”, Belconnen Community Theatre, May 5-14, bookings to trybooking.com

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