Die Fledermaus in the Sydney Opera House
The co-production by Opera Australia and the West Australian Opera of Johann Strauss It's Die Fledermaus was first staged in 1996. I saw the latest revival on 25 February in the Sydney Opera House. Director Lindy Hume takes the piece out of 1870's Vienna and sets it in 1930s New York, an interesting juxtaposition of time and place, for the first performance was given for the tottering society of a Vienna reeling under the economic strain and repercussions of the Franco-Prussian War, whilst 1930s New York was staggering under the weight and trauma of the Great Depression. Yet the reckless lifestyles of both cities continued for a time while fortunes and empires were on track for disaster. Then, and only then, did the champagne lose its fizz.
Die Fledermaus is about unfettered hedonistic escapism. On the surface it is frivolous and self-indulgent; a light hearted commentary on a society that was desperately trying to ignore the reality of the world around it. Perhaps, today, we can relate more easily to the 1930s than the 187Os and this production takes us back to the escapism of the cinema of the 1930s, to the fabulous Art Deco film sets, to the costumes and the brashness of the bored and boring sophisticates, to the strange and often off-beat rough diamonds of society, to a time, as now, when things and people were not necessarily what they purported or seemed to be, to a period of economic disaster that most of us assume will never occur again.
The First Act was a little shaky and slow getting into the swing. Slow, too, were quite a few of the tempi throughout but this is a stylish production, sung with panache and a great sense of mutual fun and involvement.