Die Fledermaus is the title of Johann Strauss the Younger's most popular operetta, one that has been translated to many languages and performed the world over. New Opera Singapore's production was acted and sung completely in English, the practice of using the vernacular being widely accepted universally. Thus only a pedant would object to the non-use of the original German, or carp at the title not being the far less poetic The Bat.
Fledermaus in whatever language has to be a sparkling and good-humoured affair, and New Opera Singapore under its Korean-born founder Jeong Ae Ree delivered in heaps and some more. In its favoured tradition of updating the classics, the setting was modern-day yuppie Singapore, with Adele as a Pinoy domestic and numerous references to Korean and Japanese pop culture, all the rage here these days. The ice was immediately broken and the comedy flowed unabated.
The casting with New Opera regulars was excellent. Rosalinde was sung by two home-grown sopranos Teng Xiang Ting and Rebecca Li on separate evenings. Li was her usual feisty self but touched with a vulnerability that made her endearing. Opposite her, David Charles Tay as hubby Eisenstein gave a totally believable portrayal of smug duplicity, which made it all the more satisfying when hoisted on his own petard.
Young School of the Arts student Moira Loh's Adele stole the show with her Leticia Bongnino accent and had two big arias to impress with, including the famous Laughing Song. Even tenor Shaun Lee's hopelessly in love Alfred, spouting lines from various tenor arias, had much to recommend.
Three Korean singers were invited to helm main cast roles: booming bass-baritone Park Jun Hyeok as the aggrieved Falke, David Daehan Lee as prison governor Frank and alto Son Jung A in the trousers (cross-dressing) role as an implausibly Japanese Orlovsky. Their spoken and sung English was just more than adequate, and surtitles were a great help here.
The set design by Shin Ji-Won and Brian Leong was simple yet effective, but did the party at Club Fledermaus have to look like something out of Patpong rather than Gangnam or Mohamed Sultan Road? Kim Sook Young's stage direction was breezily communicative, providing lots of laughs from the audience. The sequence of Eisenstein and Frank impersonating Japanese patrons by desperately reciting Japanese brand names and clichés was a scream.
The orchestra conducted by Chan Wei Shing supported the fast-moving action well, and the small chorus, complete with a quartet of pole-dancers, gave the Second Act an unusually sleazy feel. The practice of inserting arias and ballets during this segment was passed over for the non-credited appearance of Channel 8 television comedian Patricia Mok as a very sober Barbara, taking the place of non-singing and usually inebriated prison attendant Frosch.
Filling the gap between the Second and Third Acts, her soliloquy in a combination of Singlish and Mandarin was a tour de force of stand-up comedy, casting snooks on singers, actors, musicians and essentially the entire entertainment industry. Mok's appearance summed up the production's ethos, which is to demystify the air of elitism surrounding opera and making the genre approachable.
New Opera Singapore has succeeded again, with good singing and acting, and not a dull minute in between.