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Reviews

<em>Die Fledermaus</em>, Des Moines Metro Opera
09 Jul 2018

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

Die Fledermaus, Des Moines Metro Opera

A review by James Sohre



 

The production team re-imagined the time and setting to the “anything goes” era of The Great Gatsby, and this fresh approach proved to generally be a fine fit. As is customary at DMMO, the production was beautifully cast.

Taylor Stayton, best known as a Rossini specialist extraordinaire, on this occasion was a preening, over-sexed Alfred, bursting out in handsomely sung, over the top Italian opera phrases at the slightest provocation. Mr. Stayton’s gleaming tenor, handsomely boyish demeanor, and shameless pursuit of Rosalinda were a wholly winning entertainment package.

David Pershall’s muscular tenor brought a stolid, suitably smug take to the deceitful party boy Eisenstein. Despite some characterful singing and genial enough philandering, his comeuppance was a satisfying denouement. Troy Cook was a delectably devious, musically resplendent Dr. Falke, his firm-toned baritone ringing out in the house with real panache.

Craig Irvin was a rock solid vocal presence as the warden Frank. The tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Irvin deployed his pliable, well-schooled baritone to fine effect as he played a lively part in the intricate plot to contrive identities and ameliorate indiscretions. Thomas J. Capobianco’s steady, insistent tenor made a fine impression in his brief, but key, appearances as Dr. Blind. Craig Juricka’s engaging baritone was appealing in his featured moments as Ivan. Brian Frutiger, a notable tenor soloist, scored all his laughs as the jailer Frosch, even though he didn’t sing a note. The leading ladies were all stellar.

Susannah Biller was a supremely stylish Rosalinda, her uncommonly fine soprano in full service to a notable role traversal. Ms. Biller has gained just a hint of steel in her attractive instrument and the voice was gorgeously “present” throughout the range. She offered confident, idiomatic singing throughout, but never more so than in her beautifully crafted rendition of the Czardas. Her theatrical abandon also enabled a hedonistic, adventurous take on the character, greatly enhanced by her uninhibited display of arguably the best gams in the business.

Anna Christy is having an unparalleled success as Adele. First, her beaming smile shines so intensely it threatens to contribute to global warming. But second, Ms. Christy is effortlessly singing the spots off the page in a vocal interpretation without peer. If there is a more petite, delectably sassy, vocally adept, theatrically engaging soprano performing this part, please don’t tell me. I don’t think my heart could take it.

In the featured role of Sally, soprano Abigail Paschke proved to be a soupçon of delight in the Act Two’s party scene, first as a bitchy foil for the impostor Olga/Adele. Ms. Paschke not only sings delightfully but boy, can she dance, too! In a daffy goof of a “ballet,” she and four hapless chorus boys entertained the party guests with a spontaneous parody of The Red Shoes, with the clumsy ballerina all shaky legs, splayed ankles, teetering pirouettes, and earthbound tour jetés. Josh Walden was the creative choreographer.

Sarah Larsen is having a ball at the ball as the gender-bending Prince Orlovsky. Ms. Larsen’s well-produced, hearty mezzo easily encompasses the role’s requirements, and her rendition of Orlovsky’s party piece was the highlight of her performance. Her accent (or “ek-sent”) was commendably consistent and suitable, if on occasion just a bit impenetrable. Never you mind, her blasé take on this rich royal reveler was a very satisfying turn.

In the pit, Robert Moody conducts with insouciant affection for the material and the excellent group of musicians responds in kind. Non-continental European orchestras don't have this lilting operetta style built into their DNA, and Maestro Moody has done quite an accomplished feat of instilling the correct Straussian feel and bounce into the proceedings.

R. Keith Brumley has created a riotously colorful set design. The Viennese Eisenstein manse is all busy diamond wallpaper, huge doors, massive staircase, heavy wooden accents, and competing color palates of blue, orange and green. The action in Act One is confined to this “proscenium” portion of the stage. Act Two spills onto the apron, and the prince’s palace is backed by an impressively complicated, floor to ceiling Tiffany inspired wall of luminescent glass art. Act Three’s jail is more down to earth and institutionally realistic, although in a good visual joke, the silly rubber jail cell bars allow Frosch to play them like a harp.

Jonathon Knipscher’s apt costumes not only helped define the characters (and their station in society), but also filled the stage with dazzling color. Having seen the profusion of period flapper party attire in Act Two, I am not sure there are any beaded, sequined dresses left in all of a tri-state area! Mr. Knipscher has outdone his own admirable record with this richly diverse costume design. Barry Steele contributed a straight forward, unfussy lighting design that did everything necessary, and Brittany Crinson was responsible for the wide-ranging make-up and hair design.

Director David Gately managed his resources effectively. The movement of the chorus on and off stage was especially breathtaking in its efficiency, such as having Act Two start with a veritable explosion of choral activity, expertly tutored by Chorus Master Lisa Hasson. In spite of many clever intentions, I found Act One overall to feel more like a tickle of ginger ale on my upper lip than the heady effect of champagne. The latter was reserved for Act Two, when the effervescence of Moët kicked the comic intensity into higher gear.

Perhaps I am a jaded Fledermaus-er, well acquainted (too acquainted?) with this thrice familiar piece, since, in spite of a profusion of talent, I thought that the evening could haven been improved substantially by excising abut 10-15 minutes from the spoken text. With today’s taste for less leisurely Old World pace, I found myself wanting the plot to more often cut to the chase, that being the wondrous Strauss melodies that are the raison d'être for mounting this perennial favorite.

That said, the packed audience laughed, and clapped, and cheered (as did I), proving that if this was your first time at Die Fledermaus or your thirty-first, there is substantial life in the old Bat yet.

James Sohre

Die Fledermaus

Alfred: Taylor Stayton; Adele: Anna Christy; Rosalinde von Eisenstein: Susannah Biller; Gabriel von Eisenstein: David Pershall; Dr. Blind: Thomas J. Capobianco; Dr. Falke: Troy Cook; Frank: Craig Irvin; Sally: Abigail Paschke; Prince Orlovsky: Sarah Larsen; Frosch: Brian Frutiger; Ivan: Craig Juricka; Conductor: Robert Moody; Director: David Gately; Set Design: R. Keith Brumley; Lighting Design: Barry Steele; Costume Design: Jonathan Knipscher; Make-up and Hair Design: Brittany Crinson for Elsen Associates; Choreographer: Josh Walden; Chorus Master: Lisa Hasson

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