Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at the St. Lawrence Centre last night. It’s a will crafted production; basically traditional as to costumes and sets and with a generous amount of more topical jokes added to the dialogue (both dialogue and musical numbers are performed in English). The one thing about it that is a bit different and much to be praised is that the jailer Frosch, played by director Bill Silva-Marin, is actually funny and sings pretty well for a guy who doesn’t sing a lot anymore. The schtick is that he is obsessed with singing and insists on singing lessons from Alfred (or here Alfredo) when he appears in the jail in place of Eisenstein. The singing lessons are kind of a parody with plenty of jokes about vocal production and a fair bit of physical humour. All this is actually set up from the beginning by making Alfred a rather larger role than usual with a fair amount of interpolated snatches of Verdi and Puccini. It may not sound that radical but it does liven up the third act which all too often can be pretty dull and anti-climactic.
I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that). I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama. The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash. Fair enough. It works pretty well. The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.
Elizabeth Beeler with company and Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide
The Cousin from Nowhere is a German operetta by Eduard Künneke that premiered in Berlin in 1921. Last night it received its Canadian premier, in English translation, at Toronto Operetta Theatre. It’s a light, charming romcom with few pretensions but much to enjoy. The plot is simple in outline though convoluted in almost Gilbertian way. Julia is an heiress under the guardianship of her aunt and uncle and about to come of age and, thus, come into the fortune that hitherto the older couple have been able to enjoy. She is in love (or thinks she is) with her third cousin twice removed Roderich, who left to make his fortune in the East Indies seven years ago. Aunt and uncle scheme to marry her to their nephew August. Various more or less improbable plot twists involve August impersonating Roderich and successfully winning the heart of Julia while Roderich returns and falls instantly in love with Hanna, Julia’s bestie. It all ends happily. The music is not unlike Viennese operetta with some nods to jazz and popular post war dance music but if you are expecting pre echoes of Berg or Weill you are going to be disappointed. It’s quite conventional but essentially well crafted light entertainment.