This film records Joan Sutherland's last public performance in 1990. At the end of Act II, at the point where Prince Orlovsky's guests are usually introduced, La Stupenda glides onto the stage wearing a layered green tulle dress and looking for all the world like a Christmas tree on castors. The audience erupts, they scarcely even notice that she is accompanied by Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne. Dame Joan sings an excellent duet from Semiramide with Marilyn Horne. Then she sings a, somewhat shaky duet from the end of La Traviata with Pavarotti. Pavarotti tries to put his arm around her waist but his attempted circumnavigation ends in failure. Finally, the last thing that Dame Joan ever sings in public is a rather cheesy version of no, I won't tell you, you have to see it to believe it. Several thousand elderly groupies in evening dress rise to their feet, including the, then, British Prime Minister John Major. Dame Joan glides off-stage and it is all over.
Except we are only halfway through the opera which is the pretext for the entire evening. This is as good a version of Die Fledermaus as you can hope to see. I have seen four different versions of this opera in the last couple of years and they have all been nothing short of excellent, leading me to suspect that, as a guaranteed evening's entertainment, it is pretty much bullet-proof. I have seen two versions completely in German. This makes the music sound better but the jokes in German tend to fall flat. My favourite version is the 1984 production, also from Covent Garden, in which Rosalinde, played by Kiri Te Kanawa, is the English wife of von Eisenstein. This makes it plausible for the musical numbers to be in German but most of the dialogue and all the jokes to be in English. This 1990 production is in English so there is a wonderful comedy routine by John Sessions as the Jailer Frosch with many jibes at the expense of rich opera-goers, the Tory government and Prime Minister Major. The other feature that I found unusual was that Prince Orlovsky was played by a counter-tenor, Jochen Kowalski, rather than a transvestite woman as in all the other versions that I have seen. Given the Rocky Horror nature of the role, I found that this worked quite well.
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