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.”
June 18, 2015 - Norfolk & Richmond, VA - Virginia Opera is pleased to announce a key staff appointment. Robert Cinnante, has been appointed to the position of Director of Education and Outreach, a post with statewide responsibility based in the Richmond offices of Virginia Opera. Mr. Cinnante joins Virginia Opera with the assignment of expanding the Education Program, both increasing its impact and outreach, and shaping the touring arm to ensure a broader visibility and understanding of the art form.
April 29, 2015 - The Virginia Opera took a gamble by staging its landmark production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical theater blockbuster Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as the opening show for its 40th anniversary season, which began last fall. Happily, the gamble paid off--big time.
By John Shulson
Verdi’s “La Traviata” ranks among the top 10 most done and seen operas in the repertoire. Based on “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas, “Traviata" is the typical tale of the power and pain of love. Violetta is the high society courtesan who enjoys attention but fears giving up freedom, ultimately having it both ways, but not without emotional and physical turmoil and, of course, a last minute surge of hope before death.