A review by Julia Gasper
Don’t miss this production of Johann Strauss’s classic comic operetta. Seeing it is like going to a party – a jolly, carefree party where everyone has a lot of fun. The music, a miscellany of bouncy waltzes, galloping polkas and lilting romantic songs, comes up fresh and irresistible. Yes, the plot is a little complicated but what matters is the atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna, all gaiety, frolics and flirtation with mysterious strangers.
One good reason for going to see this production is another chance to hear Alyona Kistenyova, the outstanding Ukrainian soprano who sang the lead in two of last year’s Ellen Kent productions, La Traviata, and Madame Butterfly. Kistenyova shone again as Rosalinde. She simply carried the part away with her delicious voice, grace, style and feeling. In the ballroom scene she acted with enigmatic allure, making everybody wonder who and what was behind her mask, and sang the Czardas with poise – though she did chicken out of the final high note. I wonder if she had a cold, as we know that her superb voice is quite capable of such demands. Oddly, in this version Rosalinde said she was a Romanian countess. In the original, she is meant to pose as a Hungarian countess and that is why she sings the Czardas, a song of nostalgia for her Hungarian homeland.
Rosalinde’s husband Eisenstein was sung by Ruslan Zinevych, the tenor who so memorably starred as Alfredo in Ellen Kent’s Traviata. His agreeable, nutty voice and forceful delivery were united with a comic verve and the results were splendid. He and Kistenyova certainly make a wonderful team. The very lyrical tenor Ruslan Pacatovici sang Eisenstein’s friend Dr Falke, and also the role of Alfred, his wife’s (would-be) lover, which gives him the chance to put in snatches of famous tenor roles, most amusingly.
The role of Adèle, the maid who goes to the ball disguised as a lady, was admirably played by Maria Tonina, who has gifts as a comic actress. She entertained us throughout particularly when she puts on airs with her host, Prince Orlovsky (Liza Kadelnik). I’m not sure that this role was well suited to her voice, which has sounded better in other parts, but she is an attractive young lady with bags of talent. The libretto was studded with topical jokes (about Abramovich and Putin for example) which worked well though the “mystery guest” episode in my opinion did not, and ought to be cut. It did not blend well with the rest of the opera. However, the comedy of Act III was splendid, with the drunken gaoler being sung by Vladimir Dragos, whom we last saw as the forbidding father in La Traviata. What a versatile performer this baritone is.
Those who go to the opera to feast their eyes as well as their ears will not be disappointed. The set is beautiful and the costumes, particularly in the ballroom scene, are fabulous, some of them being vintage treasures, sparkling with sequins, tulle and lace. All in all, while the production needs a few adjustments it is well worth seeing, and if you missed it at Oxford and don’t want to go all the way to Edinburgh where the tour is taking it next week, you just have to wait until May when the company will be performing it again at Basingstoke.
Julia Gasper 26th February 2016.
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