Magazine article The Spectator

Ideal of Frivolity

Magazine article The Spectator

Ideal of Frivolity

Article excerpt

Die Fledermaus Royal College of Music Un Ballo in Maschera Royal Opera House

Die Fledermaus is one of the most consistently inspired scores ever written, though far from performer-proof. There are huge problems, too, in presenting it in non-German-speaking countries, particularly English-speaking ones. It seems to need to be done in the vernacular, yet almost all English translators take Gilbert as their model for what an operetta librettist should be, and, lacking his genius but not his indefatigable facetiousness, produce reams of spoken dialogue which would sound absurd from any human mouth, but impossible when spoken by people who have been hired primarily because they can sing.

The splendid production at the Royal College of Music is successful partly because it uses the translation by Leonard Hancock and David Pountney, which is both excellent for singing and sounds natural when merely spoken, with a fair number of decent jokes. The director Paul Curran, who on the basis of this production should be widely employed by all our opera companies, especially the two leading London ones, shows in a highly articulate interview in the programme how firm a grasp he has not only of the challenge that Fledermaus presents to any company, but especially to one fielding two sets of performers. Curran realises how complex at least some of the characters are, and how tricky that might make playing them for young performers.

These difficulties had been triumphantly overcome by the second team, and I gather at least as well by the first -- what a shame it is that the RCM's almost invariably fine operatic productions only survive for a tiny handful of performances, and in a tiny theatre, when they are often London's prime music-theatrical attractions.

At the heart of Fledermaus is Rosalinde, an irresistible centre of sexiness, charm, genuine warmth of feeling and also with an impressive gift for simulating feeling, also sometimes not quite certain whether or not that's what she is doing. In Pumeza Matshikiza, the RCM struck gold: ideal figure and looks, glamour, and a phenomenally rich voice, used with high intelligence, and, in the great Czardas, able to cope with dizzying requirements. No one else in the cast quite measured up to her standard, but that was all right, because none of the other characters has anything like her personality --- a personality similar in crucial respects to Fiordiligi's in Così, which happens to be the other role I've seen Matshikiza in.

The evening's other hero was the conductor Michael Rosewell, whom I have now heard leading many operas, and always been impressed by. …

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