Gorgeous sets and beautiful singing combined with some outrageous lines turn this well-loved operetta into a "must see" event in the Piedmont Triad. Directed by James Allbritten, the all-student cast, chorus, and orchestra performed under the banner of the Fletcher Opera Institute at the Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Written in 1874 by Johann Strauss II (1825-99), Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") sports a silly plot of the kind found only in opera – flirtation, mistaken identity, another flirtation, more mistaken identity, and finally forgiveness. The primary characters are a banker and his wife, Gabriel and Rosalinda von Eisenstein, each with polyamorous interests, Rosalinda's from her past – a former singing teacher (Alfredo) – and Gabriel with any interesting female in the vicinity. Adele, Rosalinda's chambermaid, is the other primary role; her ambition is to leave her lowly calling and to lead a glamorous life, perhaps as an actress. Dr. Falke, a close family friend of the von Eisensteins with a soft spot for Rosalinda, wants to avenge Gabriel's prank of a previous New Year when he was left marooned in the middle of town in a bat costume. He plans to exact his vengeance at a masked ball at the home of the Prince Orlofsky, a Russian nobleman who purports to be perpetually bored. Of course, everything goes awry! Plans backfire and characters turn out to be other than supposed, but in the end, with all a bit wiser, celebration reigns and only champagne is to blame!
Sung and spoken in English with English supertitles, the cast is excellent: Lurline Richardson, soprano, was a fine chambermaid, and her second act aria ("My dear Marquis") sparkled with derisive laughter. Her mistress, Rosalinda, was beautifully sung by soprano Jaclyn Michelle Surso, whose coy, demure and sexy acting propelled the whole show, especially in the second act, when she was disguised as a Hungarian countess and sang the enchanting "Czardas Aria." Her husband, sung by baritone Matthew Arnold, was a forceful seductor throughout and was at his vocal best when performing Franz Lehar's "You Are My Heart's Delight" ("Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from The Land of Smiles) for the guests at Prince Orlofsky's party.
Dr. Falke, sung by baritone Joshua Conyers, was one of the heroes of the evening, and yes, he did have his revenge! Conyers has a beautiful, rich and warm voice throughout his range. His cameo performance at the Prince's party – Erich Korngold's "Pierrot's Tanzlied" ("My Yearning..." from Die tote Stadt or The Dead City) – was a vocal highpoint of the evening.
The only complex and enigmatic character in Die Fledermaus is the Prince Orlofsky, whose high voice with frequent adolescent (or tipsy?) high skips make this a "trouser role" – sung by a woman in disguise. Lindsay Mecher, contralto, was a remarkable Prince, with outstanding pitch control and intonation. In addition to her lovely voice, she was an outstanding actress, mastering her character's boredom enough to deliver some choice lines adapted to our local audience and inspired by current geopolitics. In Act III, Patrick Scully, in a speaking role as the drunken jailer, Frosch, entertained the audience at length with his tongue-in-cheek irreverent monologue.
Alfredo, the Italian tenor (Simon Petersson) both looked and sounded the part of a melodramatic Italian, marvelously singing snippets from half a dozen Italian operas, from Verdi to Puccini, as well as a brief moment of "Vesti la giubba" from I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo). The prison warden, Herr Frank, looked and sounded great as a comic Frenchman at Prince Orlofsky's party. Katie Reide Clark, soprano, was vocally and visually seductive as Ida, Adele's haughty sister. Dr. Blind, von Eisenstein's pompous lawyer, who seems to have gotten him a sentence of eight days in jail for having mocked an official, was well played and sung by Anthony Zanghi. The role of Ivan, the Prince's major-domo, was effectively acted and spoken by Jacob Cortes.
The chorus was excellent, with crisp articulation and great balance. Although woodwind intonation was a problem in parts of the last act, the student orchestra was excellent if a bit tentative at times. Keeping the whole show rolling and animated with panache and verve was the Artistic Director of the Fletcher Opera Institute, Maestro James Allbritten. Charles Glenn Johnson designed the gorgeous sets. Allen Berryhill choreographed the exquisite ballroom waltzes. Grace Schmitz designed the colorful costumes (including the sumptuous ball gowns) and Steven LaCosse, stage director, successfully managed the entire production.
Additional performances are scheduled Sunday, February 8, at 2 pm, and Tuesday, February 10, at 7:30 pm. For details, see the sidebar.