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Michael Spyres as Alfred, Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein and Juliane Banse as Rosalinde. Act 3. [Photo by Dan Rest]
19 Feb 2014

Die Fledermaus in Chicago

In Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent performances of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus several debuts are notable to both American and Chicago audiences.

Die Fledermaus in Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Michael Spyres as Alfred, Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein and Juliane Banse as Rosalinde. Act 3

Photos by Dan Rest


The production of Die Fledermaus is owned by the San Francisco Opera and received its first Chicago viewing in this series of performances starting in December and lasting until the latter part of January. The two female leads, Rosalinde von Eisenstein and her maid Adele, were sung by Juliane Banse and Daniela Fally respectively, the former making her American operatic debut and the latter her American stage debut. Tenor Michael Spyres, whose role of Alfred sings the opening number of the score, made his Chicago Lyric Opera debut in this production. Baritone Adrian Eröd likewise sang for the first time in this house as Dr. Falke, the friend of Gabriel von Eisenstein, husband of Rosalinde. Bo Skovhus reprised the role of Gabriel which he had sung here several years earlier. David Cangelosi portrayed his lawyer Dr. Blind and Andrew Shore was Frank, the prison warden. Yet a final significant role debut was the Prince Orlovsky sung by Emily Fons. The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by Ward Stare.

Act1_DanRest1.gifDaniela Fally as Adele and Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein. Act 1

During the overture a facsimile of a Fledermaus audience-program from an 1874 performance of the opera at the Theater an der Wien was projected onto a screen covering the stage. The varied and distinct melodic parts that make up the overture were held together nicely under Mr. Stare’s direction. At the start of Act One the first two characters, both distracted by personal concerns, pursue their ambitions with vocal determination until their paths invariably cross. Alfred, the former admirer of Rosalinde von Eisenstein, sings an ardently loud serenade to honor the now married woman of the house. At the same time, the chambermaid Adele has received a note from her sister Ida, member of the corps du ballet, including an invitation to “ein grand Souper” [“exclusive late-night reception”] for which Adele must secure time off. These separate aspirations from the start of the musical drama run predictably awry and contribute with delightful symmetry to the complications of not only the first but also the following two acts. Mr. Spyres’s Alfred is appropriately passionate in his vocalism, to the extent that his eager devotion leans cleverly on the edge of several pitches in rapturous expression. Because his singing continues to hinder the maid Adele’s concentration, she orders Alfred from the premises but not before Rosalinde recognizes the voice of her former suitor. The ensuing dialogue as depicted by Ms. Banse and Ms. Nally, in which Adele pleads in vain for time to visit her “arme Tante” [“poor aunt”], is well acted and reflects their social differences by means of cleverly articulated German. After Alfred returns briefly to seek a hearing from Rosalinde, the final conflict is introduced. Gabriel arrives from court with his lawyer Dr. Blind. In the trio between husband, wife, and lawyer Gabriel’s impending prison sentence is approached with mutual accusations of guilt. Each of the principal singers matched well the brisk tempos encouraged by Mr. Stare, as each participated in the physical histrionics of ejecting Dr. Blind. His place is taken almost immediately by the entrance of Dr. Falke, an old friend of Gabriel who tenders an invitation to the very souper for which Adele has attempted to secure time away. In the role of Falke Mr. Eröd is ideally cast, his lyrical line projecting effortlessly and again showing an idiomatic sense of the text both spoken and sung. He convinces Gabriel easily to accept the invitation to Orlovsky’s souper and effectively to commence his prison sentence on the following morning. After his transformation into evening clothes and into a much more cheerful mood, Gabriel departs for the souper under the pretext of beginning his imprisonment. Ms. Banse assumes an appropriate state of confusion as she grants Adele the desired free evening, bids farewell to her husband, and faces again the presence of an importunate Alfred. Mr. Spyres’s toast to love [“Trinke Liebchen, trinke schnell” (“Drink, my darling, drink quickly”)] - performed with gusto and scrupulous diction - attempts to reverse the despondent mood of Rosalinde. When Frank the warden arrives to escort Gabriel to jail, the absence of her true husband leaves Rosalinde no choice but to proclaim that her present suitor “Kann nur allein der Gatte sein” [“can be none other than my husband”]. As such, he is escorted to jail in Gabriel’s stead.

The sentiment expressed by Alfred in his recurring lyrics at the close of the first act, “Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist” [“Happy the one who forgets what cannot in any case be changed”] seems to haunt the atmosphere of the souper in Act Two. To be sure, Orlovsky’s dictum, that every guest must engage in pleasure or be cast out from the festivity, contributes to the frenzied amusement. In this role Ms. Fons used her extensive range remarkably by combining dramatic top notes with an extended lower register in both dialogue and sung passages. After Gabriel’s amusing exchange with the Prince, he recognizes Adele wearing one of his wife’s evening gowns. In response to her employer’s confrontation Adele’s self-defense is delightfully expressed in the laughing song “Mein Herr Marquis.” In this showpiece Fally showed herself to be the equal of the challenging vocal line, as she touched on high pitches and skittered through rapid passages as skillfully as her physical gestures during dance movements taken together with the male chorus. Additional guests arrive in disguise at Orlovsky’s fête, among these the warden Frank and Rosalinde assuming the identity of a Hungarian countess who is given the privilege of “Maskenfreiheit” [“right to wear a mask”] to protect her identity. After an amusing exchange with Skovhus, in which he loses his watch in attempting to seduce her, Banse sings the Hungarian czárdás to defend the nationality of her assumed character. Banse’s forte emphases and determined expression convince the others to accept her authenticity. Equally impressive is Falke’s encouragement for all to join in friendship, “Brüderlein und Schwesterlein,” [“Brother dear and sister dear”]. Here Eröd sang with excellent legato, carefully placed rubato on the title words, and an idiomatic sense of textual emphasis. The following ballets enliven the scene of the party until Gabriel leaves in haste to proceed to the jail.

In Act Three the expected comedy of the jail scene of Die Fledermaus is indeed featured, yet the humor remained tastefully above the level of burlesque. Frank returns to assume his post as warden, while the effect of champagne hinders his full concentration. Adele’s aria, “Spiel’ ich die Unschuld vom Lande” [“If I play the naïve maid from the country”], is sung touchingly by Fally in the reprise of which the soprano added well-chosen embellishments. The progressive unmasking of characters and their admissions of assumed identity leads naturally to a balanced ending yet leaves open the likely repeat of such an evening. In this respect, Lyric Opera of Chicago has captured the atmosphere of Strauss’s Vienna with a cast of singers and actors that make it come to life.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for audio commentary courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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