Lithuanian National Opera 2019–20 Review: Die Fledermaus
Hilarious Triple Debut Creates A Truly Festive MoodBy Polina Lyapustina
Credits: Lithuanian National Opera
Every year the Lithuanian Nation Opera starts the festive season with “Die Fledermaus.” The timeless production by Gediminas Šeduikis always causes laughter and a good mood, so the operetta remains in repertory yearly since its premiere back in 2016.
But before we talk about the novelty of this year’s performances, it is essential to note that the title of this review is misleading. The actual title of the operetta that was performed at the LNOBT last week is “Šikšnosparnis,” which is basically the same “The Bat” just — in Lithuanian. And this small linguistic change makes a huge difference.
After quite a long and slow Overture, the sound of Alfred’s song came from behind the scenes. At first there didn’t seem to be anything wrong — the new words matched the music quite naturally. But once Adele appeared on stage, it was stunning to find that she was singing in Lithuanian. Though translation into local languages was an ordinary practice during Soviet times, to hear this familiar melody with other words can be a bit shocking. In minutes some other translated arias from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and “Don Carlo” and Mozart were quoted on stage. These operas aren’t performed in Lithuanian any more, but that night the classic pieces in local language suited the mood of a reckless operetta perfectly.
They transferred the audience not to any other time, but certainly another national context with all the meaning inherent in the original piece and so much more.
This feature was smartly used to make an old masterpiece more relevant, which means funnier for the modern Lithuanian audience. The dialogues were updated with some local jokes and comments. And the use of Russian language in the second and third acts was significantly expanded; the same could be said for the use of strong Russian alcohol.
The main spotlight of the evening was on the triple role debuts of the leading singers of the operetta. Young baritone Stepons Zonys tried his hand at Eisenstein, while another baritone Laimonas Pautienius added Dr. Falke to his already wide repertory. Finally, rising star soprano Monika Pleškytė interpreted the role of Adele.
Pleškytė was a solid Adele, indeed. Her interpretation presented a young, pretty, and an adorably sly woman. The soprano has just started her career at National opera in a wide range of roles. She took on the small role of Paquette in “Candide,” showing off her voice bright and strong voice — she also exhibited impressive low notes in this role. For Adele, she was prepared to shine with light lyric coloratura. She went from her middle notes to blazing high notes effortlessly. “Die Fledermaus” certainly showcased her great potential, and yet there were some moments that showed that her coloratura is still raw. “Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie” lacked flexibility, but was quite enjoyable overall. She improved by the third act and later sounded almost impeccable.
Laimonas Pautienius came from Germany just for the opening night and his low interest in this production was quite obvious amid high interest from young performers. An amazing Valentin, dramatic Giorgio Germont, and a peerless Onegin, this time he was nothing more than whom he meant to be, perhaps witty but vengeful man. He felt very confident on stage, confusing his younger partners on stage at times, though he made no discernible mistakes. However, he didn’t leave a particularly big impression.
In terms of Zonys, it seemed that he was overly concentrated on his singing at the beginning and was seemingly afraid of being overwhelmed by the orchestra. It never happened and as a result, he started to feel free and natural on stage once he got into his cozy bathrobe. He sang with power and vigor and yet found time for some amazingly beautiful melodic lines. He received a compliment “with that beautiful tenor voice,” and responded “…but darling I’m a baritone!” as he was leaving the stage for a moment. Zonys’ bright and agile voice worked out perfectly on this occasion.
The baritone’s finest hour came in the second act when he genuinely combined his vocal technique and artistry for the two most important goals of his character — to get drunk and fall in love.
Cold and artificial at the beginning, the relationship between Eisenstein and Rosalinde gained a second wind at Orlovsky’s party, their onstage chemistry developing continuously. In their duet “Dieser Anstand, so manierlich,” she was quirky and teasing, while he was torn between the desire to give everything and return the symbol of allegiance to his wife. Their voices melted in some amazing compositions, while they both remained extremely natural and funny.
Rosalinde is a role that certainty suits lyric soprano Viktorija Miškūnaitė, who recently tried out some spinto and dramatic roles. This very reasonable return to the familiar range was delightful for her fans. She showed astonishing flexibility and hit the hall with clear high notes. Her piano parts were thoughtful and deep, though unfortunately, they were partly overpowered by the brass section, which was definitely not the soprano’s fault. It seems that Miškūnaitė’s more sensual interpretation never quite coalesced with the conductor’s interpretation, even if it was extremely appropriate.
Inesa Linaburgytė brought an original and simply astonishing interpretation of Prince Orlofsky. The role gives a wide scope for imagination for mezzos and altos. Linaburgytė, who is well-known for a confident and robust bottom range, perform with quite a high tessitura and made the role come to life with great charisma. She wasn’t fooling around, never trying to sing artificially masculine. Instead, she used a wide range, managing bright mezzo coloratura parts. That might be the lightest interpretation of a Prince I’ve heard in my life and yet the most convincing and vivid.
Actor Irmantas Jankaitis, entertaining the audience during the set change for the third act, walked throughout the auditorium. His speech was barely connected to the original plot but he talked about some relevant topics close to the heart of every Lithuanian — from climate changes (it’s now extremely warm and snowless in December in Lithuania) to numerous alcohol references. The laughter was so loud, that I surely expected a standing ovation for him.
Another brilliant performance was given by the LNO choir. Aligned, clean, and bright-colored, the ensemble’s singing added extra value to every scene. The group remained the soul of old Vienna in this transnational production.
Unfortunately, the orchestra that night had some noticeable problems with the brass section, and the overall interpretation of Maestro Julius Geniušas seemed too obedient to Martynas Staškus’ vision for the work; Staškus, who was original musical director of this production, is known for his slow tempi. The piece thus lacked a sense of energy and vitality that is so crucial to enjoying it fully.
This production of “Die Fledermaus” at Lithuanian National Opera was nothing that one would expect. It was in Lithuanian (and proved, for the first time in my life, that Lithuanian is great for classic singing), with loads of long speaking parts. The audience got to see Prince Orlovsky who was perhaps more Inesa Linaburgytė than a Prince, as well as a baritone in a tenor role. It was all acerbically funny, rather sexy and a bit cunning. The perfect night at the opera.