|Prince Orlofsky's ball--Act II of Die Fledermaus (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)|
Thursday night at Prelude to Performance's La Bohème we wept and couldn't stop the tears; last night at their performance of Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus, we laughed, we giggled, we guffawed--- along with the rest of the enchanted audience.
Comedy is more difficult than tragedy to perform; the cast must play it straight so we can laugh at their foibles. They are funny because they take themselves seriously. Nothing is worse than a performer working at being funny. We are happy to report that the totally terrific cast of this Prelude to Performance production got everything right. We can't remember having a better time.
The libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée sparkles with wit and takes delight in poking a finger in the eye of 1874 Vienna with all of its hypocrisy. The entire story is one of deception and pretense. Dr. Falke (portrayed by the excellent baritone Thaddaeus Bourne) has orchestrated an elaborate charade to get revenge on his friend Gabriel von Eisenstein (brilliantly performed by Jonathan Tetelman, whose change of fach from baritone to terrific tenor was a wise choice); Eisenstein once abandoned his friend drunk and in full chiropterological drag. (Now that morning return home must have been some "walk of shame").
Falk has invited all the characters in his little drama to a ball given by the idiosyncratic Russian aristocrat Prince Orlofsky (in a star turn by mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu, whose voice has a gorgeously unique timbre). Orlofsky is bored by life and only wants to be amused. Amusement he gets! In Spades!
Eisenstein has been invited to the ball as a last gasp of wild fun before he serves a brief prison sentence. (Something akin to a bachelor party!) He hopes to flirt with some dancers there but becomes entranced by his own wife Rosalinde.
Rosalinde has been invited, and is bent on getting even with her deceiving husband. She is disguised as a Hungarian countess and if the role could have been better portrayed by anyone but stunning soprano Haley Sicking, we have yet to imagine it. Her comedic skills are prodigious and her lusty soprano shone in the Czardas--an over-the-top Viennese interpretation of Hungarian "soul". The scene of the husband trying to seduce his own wife was one of the many highlights of the evening.
Rosalinde's chambermaid Adele (charmingly sung by the sparkling soprano Shana Grossman) has also been brought to the ball under false pretenses. She thinks the invitation was from her ballerina sister but we learn that it is Falke's doing. She begs Rosalinde for the night off "to visit a sick aunt" and "borrows" a gown from her bosslady. She pretends to be an actress and entrances Frank, the prison warden who is also there under false pretenses. He is delightfully portrayed by baritone Paul Grosvenor, pretending to be Chevalier Chagrin while Eisenstein is pretending to be the equally Gallic Marquis Renard. Another comedic highlight was witnessing the two faux Frenchmen trying to communicate in pigeon French.
There is a subplot of Rosalinde being caught in an almost compromising position by Frank in Act I when an old lover named Alfred (enacted by Spencer Hamlin whose ringing effortless tenor made him perfect for the part of a singing teacher) is having a nocturnal tête-a-tête with Rosalinde. To spare her being dishonored Alfred pretends to be her husband and goes to jail with Frank.
Another source of humor was the bumbling lawyer Dr. Blind, portrayed by Joseph Sacchi, who was literally chased out of the house by the Eisensteins. So much physical humor!
There is yet another source of hilarity--the bibulous Frosch, portrayed hilariously (and in English spoken dialogue) by Steven Mo Hanan.
With musical and dramatic values at such a high professional level, it would be a pity to miss this witty production, directed with a fine hand by Gina Lapinski. It will be reprised at Sunday matinée with the same fine cast.
Strauss' tunes have stuck in our mind and we have been humming them all night while we write. From the first theme in the overture the melodies are completely captivating. Maestro Steven M. Crawford kept the energy flowing non-stop with much of the music being in waltz or duple time. It was difficult to sit still!
As if that were not sufficient, the gorgeous costumes of Charles R. Caine dazzled the eye and transported us to a glamorous time and place. Abdul Latif's choreography added to the delight. The party scene in Act II gave an opportunity for chorus members to strut their stuff, under the guidance of Chorus Master Noby Ishida.
The set was simple and seems to have served for both this production and La Bohème, neither enhancing nor detracting from the action.
Both singing and spoken dialogue were performed in the original German and performed with clarity. Although Brett Findley's titles were excellent for non-German speakers, we confess to getting a kick out of understanding the well-enunciated German. Credit for German coaching goes to Vera Junkers.
(c) meche kroop