We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, December 29, 2016



Holiday time generally offers two types of music--the religious and the secular.  The religious music is generally serious, like Handel's Messiah. the secular music is particularly frivolous, like "Jingle Bells" (of which we hope to hear no more). But if one is really fortunate, one gets to celebrate the holiday with a big dose of fun--thanks to Amore Opera's effervescent production of Johann Strauss II's  Die Fledermaus, which premiered in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien.

The libretto, by Karl Haffner and Richard Genee, was based on a French vaudeville play by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy--a very funny story about one Gabriel Eisenstein who becomes the butt of an elaborate prank instigated by his friend Falke whom he had embarrassed some time earlier with a far simpler prank that would not have satisfied for an evening's entertainment.

In Act I, we are introduced to the characters. Frau Eisenstein, a loving wife, is pestered by pleas from her saucy maid Adele who has received a letter, ostensibly from her sister, inviting her to a fabulous New Year's ball. Two splendid sopranos sang these roles to perfection with effective acting, involving us in their stories from the very beginning. Iris Karlin was totally believable as the much put-upon woman of the house who has heard every excuse in the book from Adele.

Adele was given a perfect portrayal by Haley Marie Vick--a properly over-the-top performance as she cajoled and wheedled and complained of a sick aunt. What persuades Frau Eisenstein to give her the night off?  Well, Alfredo, an Italian tenor from her past, broadly interpreted by Riad Ymeri, comes to pay court. He is in fine voice and tosses off the first few lines of every famous tenor aria. Not only does Mr. Ymeri have a fine ringing tenor, but delightful comedic skills. The loyal wife runs him off.

Herr Eisenstein (mellow baritone Matthew Ciufitelli) receives an invitation to the same ball from his friend Falke; although he is due at the local jail to serve a brief sentence,  he is lured to postpone serving the sentence by the promise of meeting beautiful women at the ball. He is told to assume a faux French identity. 

Alfredo returns and Frau E.'s resistance weakens. When the prison warden Frank (the fine baritone Jay Gould) shows up to cart Herr E. off to jail, he mistakes Alfredo for the prospective prisoner. To spare her reputation he goes along, but not without pressing his advantage and securing several farewell kisses!

Falke lets Frau E. know that her husband will be at the ball and tells her to come and observe, to wear a mask and pretend to be a Hungarian Countess. Company President and Director Nathan Hull made a fine Falke.

Act II is a show-stopper. Prince Orlofsky, a bored Russian aristocrat, has agreed to host the ball to watch the "entertainment" --watching Herr E. posing as a Marquis running into his chambermaid wearing his wife's gown and posing as an actress! Their confrontation gives Ms. Vick an opportunity to deliver the sparkling aria "My dear Marquis".  Even more entertaining is watching Herr E. courting his own wife who is masquerading as a Hungarian Countess.  This gives Ms. Karlin an opportunity to deliver a stunning czardas. She is equally believable in both roles.

And mezzo-soprano Hayden DeWitt, who specializes in trouser roles, gets a chance to deliver the famous "Chac'un a son gout" with great style.  As if this were not sufficiently entertaining, soprano Michelle Pretto was a guest artist who sang "Meine Lippen Sie kussen so heiss" and sang it wonderfully well. (The aria comes from Franz Lehar's Giuditta which wasn't premiered until 1934, but is so beautiful that we may overlook that anachronism.)

What we could not overlook was an interpolated "ballet" that was so badly choreographed and performed that we will decline to mention the guilty parties. It was supposed to be Russian ballet and was neither Russian nor ballet. They have spoiled "The Blue Danube" for us! 

Adele's sister Sally was performed by Sarah Daniels. It was quite a moment when Sally is shocked to see Adele, who learns that Sally did not invite her to Prince Orlofsky's ball.

Eisenstein's blundering lawyer Dr. Blind was portrayed by Jeffrey Kurnit.
Confusion and mistaken identities are all resolved in Act III and everything ends happily. In a non-singing role we had the beloved David Seatter enacting the bibulous jailer Frosch who rivals Frank in his intoxication. There were jokes aplenty and some of them topical. We will not spoil them for you because we hope you will experience this effervescent production for yourselves. It is playing at the Theatre at St. Jean's through January 1st with a special evening on New Year's Eve in which you may hear the same excellent cast that we heard.

The orchestra was conducted by Maestro Douglas Martin. The gorgeous period costumes were designed by Ghislaine Sabiti. The simple sets by Richard Cerullo served the production well and were lit by Lauren Bremen.  

Most impressive was Mr. Hull's direction. Every bit of stage business was motivated and made dramatic sense. Nothing interfered with the sense of fun.

We personally would have preferred to have heard the work in German. The translation was quite good and there were sufficient rhymes to satisfy the ear.  BUT, it is funnier in German and the German language is easier to comprehend. The quality of the articulation was variable and we missed a lot of the funnier lines which lay in the upper register. The chorus sounded even muddier.

Let it be known that the very busy Amore Opera is also presenting Hansel and Gretel in English for a few more matinee performances. It is worth knowing that the Theatre at St. Jean's has superb sight lines and your children will not be crawling onto your laps.

(c) meche kroop

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