Christopher Alden’s recent productions in Toronto; Rigoletto and Der Fliegender Holländer, were controversial, rather cerebral affairs that delighted his fans but tended to puzzle, and even infuriate, the more conservative critics and opera goers. His Die Fledermaus, which opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre, has something for everybody. There are two main threads uniting the three acts. The first is the piece as an allegory of Austrian bourgeois society from an insecure pre WW1 period through a period of unbridled hedonism in the 1920s to the beginnings of Fascism. The second is a much more explicit depiction of Falke as the ringmaster of the whole circus. He goes from manipulative Freudian psychiatrist in Act 1 to Orlofsky’s confidante in Act 2 to, bat costumed, sitting astride the giant watch that hangs above the stage; the only character aloof from the takeover of the drama by the sinisterly Fascistic Frosch. All this is strung together by prefiguring later elements in earlier scenes. In Act 1 the party goers from Act 2 invade the scene via the fractured wall of Rosalinde’s bedroom as Gabriel imagines the delights to come. A silent but frenetic Frosch appears on stage at various points in the first two acts although his identity isn’t apparent until the coup de theâtre that carries us into Act 3. Additionally Alden does not shy away from bat imagery, including it’s darker overtones. There are bat shadows on the backdrop during the overture, Falke first appears as a Dracula look alike, the ‘ballet’ are batgirls and we close out with Falke, again dressed as a bat, overseeing the denouement. There’s a lot going on and I shall be very happy to see this again and delve deeper (a recurrent theme with Alden productions).
All of the above might make the reader think that this is an overly serious affair. It isn’t. All the zany, frothy comedy one could wish for in a Fledermaus is there helped by quite spectacular costumes (Constance Hoffmann) and careful attention to timing and detail. Allen Moyer’s simple but elegant set, which eliminates delays for scene changes, and a rather ruthless trimming of the spoken dialogue keep everything moving along and careful direction of a comedically talented cast make for a funny, sexy, fast paced romp which provoked more laughter than I’ve heard before at a live opera.
So what about the performances? They were uniformly excellent. The prettiest singing perhaps came from David Pomeroy as Alfred. He also got the silliest costumes of the night on a night of extraordinary costumes. Tamara Wilson was a fine Rosalinde. She was much the biggest voice on show and made the most of it where needed. Michael Schade showed what a brilliant comic actor he is. His every movement seemed carefully calculated to the task and the overall result was wonderful. He’s a pretty decent singer too! Laura Tucker’s Orlofsky was, mercifully, quite restrained. She sang her big, difficult aria well and wasn’t annoying. Peter Barrett’s Falke was a tour de force. One never lost sight of who was pulling the strings and his presence when he wouldn’t normally be on stage was well managed. German actor Jan Pohl was the most sinister Frosch you will ever see. To say more would be spoilerish. James Westman, as Frank, sang and acted well and wears an evening gown quite elegantly. Then there was the Adele of Ambur Braid. This was the role she’s been waiting for. The part sits nicely for her voice and she displayed comedic talents quite equal to Michael Schade. She’s also, of course, very sexy. Judging by the applause at curtain call time, she was the crowd’s favourite. It’s becoming redundant to say this but Sandra Horst’s fine chorus were once again very fine indeed.
I noted in an earlier post how meticulously conductor Johannes Debus had been working with the orchestra during rehearsals. Last night we heard the result. This is a singular interpretation of the score and one that fits entirely with the production concept. Don’t expect the mellifluous tones of the Vienna Phil on auto-pilot. What Debus has produced is a sound that is more Vienna in the period Alden has set the piece. Obviously it’s not twelve tone but there’s an aggressive, driving rhythmic quality that brings out a new and slightly disturbing quality in the music. Like the production it’s bold and effective.
All in all I think it’s pretty amazing that the COC has taken a relatively light piece like Die Fledermaus and made so much out of it. There are ten more performances between now and November 3rd. Ambur Braid and Mireille Asselin are alternating as Adele and I look forward to seeing what Mireille can do next Friday. The website is still showing decent ticket availability but that may not last long once people read the newspaper reviews (if, indeed, anybody does).
I went back on October 13th when Mireille Asselin was playing Adele for a second look.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper and Chris Hutcheson courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company.