Just as daylight saving time went off and left us in the dark, and grim superstorm damage led the news for days, Virginia Opera brought us the welcome lightness and good cheer of their current production of Die Fledermaus at the Harrison Opera House November 10. It really is not to be missed!
Sung in English (and with nice, crisp diction), the story of an elaborate revenge prank sailed along from hilarity to hilarity. From overture to final curtain, it was a flat-out triumph for stage director Dorothy Danner, who recreated what she calls “the giddy atmosphere of Strauss’s Vienna” and “the whirling euphoria of 1874.” Throughout, especially in the big second act scene at Count Orlovsky’s ball, with dancers and singers and supernumeraries (even a small shaggy dog) jammed together onstage, Danner created engaging movement and brilliant bits of stage “business,” all of which moved the plot along briskly, illuminated character and made the music arise naturally from the moment’s actions.
Danner was ably abetted by conductor Gary Thor Wedow, who led the orchestra of Virginia Symphony players at a breakneck pace without anything feeling rushed— quite a feat. Scenic designer Erhard Rom and lighting designer Eric Southern conspired with Danner to turn the orchestral overture into an integral part of the plot behind an attractive scrim, which set things up for the story to follow by showing—not just telling—how, after partying too heartily, Dr. Falke, costumed as a Fledermaus, a bat, had been abandoned on a park bench by his friend Eisenstein—to be discovered, to his horror, by park visitors.
The cast was more than equal to the opera’s dash and daring. Christopher Burchett’s supple baritone and tall, elegant physique drew the audience into Dr. Falke’s complicated revenge plot. Baritone Philip Cutlip was delightful as Falke’s philandering friend Eisenstein. Eisenstein’s wife, Rosalinde, was ably sung by soprano Emily Pulley, who came into her own in the second act when she appeared at the ball as a masked Hungarian countess, singing the Csárdás with deep passion, and dancing with warmth, confidence and humor.
Pert, perky soprano Sarah Jane McMahon sang Rosalinde’s maid Adele cheerfully, with a bright, sure voice. As Rosalinde’s former operatic boyfriend, still pursuing her after her marriage, tenor Ryan MacPherson easily tossed off bits of arias from a variety of operas, often from offstage, with little loss of power or tone.
Mezzo Abigail Nims had great fun with the trousers role of Orlovsky, the Russian count who is bored — B-O-R-I-N-K—by life. The diminutive Nims played the Count as a sort of spoiled brat; it worked. And Nims made the most of Orlovsky’s two big arias—“Chacun à son goût” (each to his own taste) and the rollicking champagne song.
Neil Ferreira was a hilarious Dr. Blind, Eisenstein’s bespectacled lawyer, who whips through a nifty near-Gilbert- and-Sullivan patter song. Bass-baritone Jake Gardner brought both gravitas and lightness to the role of Frank, the jail warden.
One must mention Grant Neale’s hilarious non-singing turn as Frosch, the drunken jailer, in the final act. He clambered over the scenery like an acrobat, tossing off bad puns, always reeling on the brink of disaster, but never quite getting there. That sort of physical comedy requires superb timing, not to mention stamina—and Neale was brilliant.
Well, the whole show was— light, fizzy and as intoxicating as the best champagne!
-- M.D. Ridge, WHRO
This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”
I don’t mean to, but I often come to the Virginia Opera with low expectations. It’s a regional company, and its performances in the Washington area are at a university performing arts center, about a 45-minute drive out of town. And I often come to standard repertory works, try as I might to keep an open mind, with a certain sense of obligation.
Celebrating its bicentennial, Rossini’s masterpiece “The Barber of Seville” is a staple of opera companies around the world. Presented by Virginia Opera on Friday in the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center, this “Barber of Seville” is a perfect example of how to update and breathe new life into a beloved classic.