Johann Strauss II, Haffner and Genee; English version by David Parry and Stephen Barlow
Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
December 10-17, 2022; 3 hrs
Johann Strauss’s nostalgic operetta in praise of warmth and fellow feeling, set in the late 19th century Vienna he knew so well, has been given a neat update in this version by international opera director Stephen Barlow.
It’s in a clever English translation, the whole story (but with character names and essential plot as in the original) being transposed to London on Millennium Eve, 1999. We’re in the world of Sloane Square and “Posh Men Behaving Badly”, as a projection tells us. The back-story, told during the overture, suggests that after a fancy dress party, Dr Falke got stuck on a tube station platform in his Batman costume, abandoned by his supposed mate Eisenstein. Revenge must follow...
The rich and unloving Eisensteins live in a posh apartment block by the Thames, with a framed blow-up of a Tatler front cover, featuring them, on the wall. Alfie, the singing plumber, is Frau Rosalinde Eisenstein’s fancy man. Gabriel E’s nasty trick on Falke makes the front page of The Sun ("Posh Doc Shock”) and, as per the original, he is due to report to the police for a brief stop in the cells – but is invited by Inspector Frank to spend the night at a party before that. Adele is the maid, with the same excuse for a night on the tiles as ever, and Alfie, pretending to be Eisenstein, gets carted off instead.
Orlofsky’s party is on board a super yacht opposite the Millennium Dome (where else for a Russian with piles of money?), with disco provided by “DJ Strauss In Da Haus”. This staging, with centre-stage hot tub and therefore several chorus members in bikinis, shows the guests arriving by boat and has a beautiful backdrop of the Dome and river.
Adele and Rosalinde show up in their assumed identities (posh totty and “Miss Budapest”), Eisenstein and Frank pretend to be a “marquis” and “chevalier”, as per the normal script – and the Act included, on the night I saw, a surprise guest in Sir John Tomlinson, RNCM president and Manchester alumnus, doing Mussorgsky’s Song of the Flea as his party piece. (The RNCM has three other operatic alumni also singing with the show on other nights: Kathryn Rudge, Alexandra Lowe and Henry Waddington).
The final Act is set in Chelsea police station, as expected: Frosch the jailer has become a female police sergeant on the desk (who introduces proceedings by threatening to “arrest the bloody lot of you”, including the conductor, in case everyone’s having too much fun), and all ends as it should.
As an update, it works beautifully (with clever design by Yannis Thavoris and lighting design by Jake Wiltshire), and the best part is the middle Act, with the RNCM chorus loving every minute of their chance to cavort around, singing with precision and finesse (credit chorusmaster Kevin Thraves) and dancing rather well, too (choreography by Zoë Vallée). The score remains the masterpiece it ever was, and is conducted by the sure hand of David Parry.
The show is double-cast in most main roles and I’ve seen only one line-up, so credits here are necessarily selective. But stand-outs for me included Adam Jarman (Falke in both casts), Olivia Tringham as Rosalinde, and Dominic Mattos as Orlofsky.
Info and tickets here