Die fle­d­er­maus re­view

Opera Mcgill strikes gold with Die fle­d­er­maus

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Carly Gor­don

When Opera Mcgill an­nounced its land­mark 60th an­niver­sary sea­son, Jo­hann Strauss II’S Die Fle­d­er­maus seemed an odd, lack­lus­tre choice for their cen­tre­piece per­for­mance. Com­posed in 1874, Die Fle­d­er­maus is an Aus­trian op­er­atic sta­ple, a light­hearted sit­com- in- con­cert por­tray­ing the whims and wiles of Vi­enna’s late 19th- cen­tury up­per class. It’s a de­light­ful opera, to be sure; but it’s also an or­di­nary opera, fre­quently per­formed and mu­si­cally fa­mil­iar. It stands in con­trast with the com­pany’s 201516 lineup, which in­cluded Mark Adamo’s 1998 op­er­atic adap­ta­tion of Lit­tle Women, and Han­del’s sel­dom heard Baroque gem Rodelinda. Cel­e­brat­ing six decades of top­notch opera ed­u­ca­tion and pro­duc­tion, could Opera Mcgill not take on a more mon­u­men­tal, ex­tra­or­di­nary project?

The Jan­uary 28 per­for­mance at the Mon­u­ment-na­tional Theatre was the fi­nal in­stall­ment of a three­show run and took place in front of a full house. Es­teemed alumni of Mcgill’s opera train­ing pro­gram re­turned to the stage in crowd­pleas­ing cameos to cel­e­brate Opera Mcgill’s decades-long his­tory. The com­pany de­liv­ered noth­ing short of an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance – bril­liantly ex­e­cuted by the stu­dent per­form­ers in a pro­duc­tion that was, for a change, de­cid­edly not racist, as their pre­vi­ous pro­duc­tion of Al­cina was.

Die Fle­d­er­maus tells a tale of ro­mance, re­venge, and mis­taken iden­tity. Charged with a misde- meanor crime, in­gen­u­ous aris­to­crat Gabriel von Eisen­stein –zest­fully sung by bari­tone Jonah Spun­gin – is served an eight day prison sen­tence. The night he is to leave, he lies to his bum­bling lawyer Blind – tenor Tor­rance Gricks – and tena­cious wife Ros­alinde –Toumine, sneak­ing out in­stead to at­tend an ex­trav­a­gant ball hosted by the ex­ceed­ingly wealthy and chron­i­cally bored Prince Orlof­sky – mezzo-so­prano Si­mone Mcin­tosh – for one last night of de­bauch­ery be­fore his im­pris­on­ment.

Bari­tone Igor Mos­tovoi thrilled the au­di­ence as Eisen­stein’s con­niv­ing friend Doc­tor Falke. Over the course of the evening, the mous­tache-twirling prankster tries to ex­act his vengeance for an em­bar­rass­ing drunken in­ci­dent that once left him passed out and cos­tumed as a bat (hence the tit­u­lar fle­d­er­maus) only to awaken to pub­lic ridicule in the town square. Falke pulls more strings than even a caf­feinated Frank Un­der­wood pos­si­bly could. He in­vites Ros­alinde, dis­guised as a Hun­gar­ian count­ess, to wit­ness her hus­band’s un­faith­ful flir­ta­tions at the Prince’s ball, along with the good-na­tured prison war­den Frank (lanky bari­tone Paul Winkel­mans) to catch sight of Eisen­stein liv­ing it up on the dance floor in­stead of be­hind bars.

Tenor John Carr Cook com­manded heavy laughs in the role of Al­fred, a lech­er­ous opera singer and for­mer lover to Ros­alinde, now bent on win­ning back her af­fec­tions de­spite her mar­riage to Eisen­stein. The de­ter­mined Casanova climbs to ser­e­nade Ros­alinde from her bal­cony. To pro­tect Ros­alinde’s rep­u­ta­tion, he im­per­son­ates Eisen­stein – lest she is caught at home with a man who is not her hus­band. How­ever, the plan back­fires, and Al­fred ends up tak­ing Eisen­stein’s place in jail. Carr Cook sang with a con­fi­dent voice that bal­anced melo­drama with majesty: Al­fred’s pompous, seem­ing im­pro­visatory in­vo­ca­tions of Mozart and Puc­cini might have been equally at home on the Met stage, or on an Amer­i­can Idol out­takes reel.

Mean­while, so­prano Gina Han­z­lik stole the show as the Eisen­stein’s stagy house­keeper Adele, who sobs and pleads for a night off work to care for her dear, sick aunt, but in­stead steals a dress from Ros­alinde’s closet and high­tails it to Prince Orlof­sky’s party. There, she mas­quer­ades as an up-and- com­ing ac­tress, charm­ing the guests – in­clud­ing a dis­guised Eisen­stein – and shak­ing the lethar­gic Prince from his sighs of bore­dom. Han­z­lik’s spry charisma and sparkling voice took cen­tre stage. Her com­mand of com­edy seemed nat­u­ral as she floun­dered, flirted, and kvetched, while her ren­di­tion of the fa­mous “Laugh­ing Song” – ac­com­pa­nied by cap­ti­vat­ing, waltz- ing har­monies from the Mcgill Sym­phony Or­ches­tra – lilted with ef­fort­less mag­netism.

True to form, the stu­dents on­stage out­shone the be­hindthe-scenes pro­fes­sion­als. Di­rec­tor Pa­trick Hansen, Pro­fes­sor of Opera Stud­ies, con­cocted a trilin­gual ver­sion of the orig­i­nally Ger­man script. While the per­form­ers nav­i­gated ev­ery code-switch – Ger­man to English to French – with con­vinc­ing pre­ci­sion, the mere pres­ence of all three lan­guages on­stage seemed ex­ces­sive. This over- com­pli­ca­tion might stem from the fee­ble rea­son­ing be­hind Hansen’s lin­guis­tic de­ci­sion, which he ex­plained in his Di­rec­tor’s Notes as “just to make things in­ter­est­ing” and “[to bring] a nice flair to the story.”

While French, the lan­guage of the 19th- cen­tury Rus­sian court, sounded at home in the Rus­sian Prince’s man­sion – and, of course, fit right in on a Mon­treal stage – Hansen’s ren­di­tion saw Adele and her flir­ta­tious sis­ter Ida (so­prano Ja­coba Bar­ber-rozema) al­ter­nat­ing be­tween Vi­en­nese Ger­man and Es­tu­ary English. This choice de­manded back­story: how did two work­ing-class Lon­don­ers find the re­sources and mo­ti­va­tion to up and move across the Chan­nel? Ul­ti­mately, the choice was a su­per­fi­cial one: it added lit­tle to the pro­duc­tion, other than pre­dictable laugh­ter at Han­z­lik’s ex­ag­ger­ated out­bursts of “Oh, bug­ger!”

Set and cos­tume de­signs by Vin­cent Le­fèvre and Ginette Gre­nier, re­spec­tively, were heav­ily ad­ver­tised as draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the sym­bol­ist art of Gus­tav Klimt. True, Le­fèvre and Gre­nier borrowed Klimt’s propen­sity for gold leaf and con­cen­tric squares, but they ne­glected the sub­ver­sive eroti­cism cen­tral to Klimt’s work. The result was an ex­trav­a­gant and vis­ually en­gag­ing turn- of-the- cen­tury aes­thetic, but the pur­ported Klimt in­spi­ra­tion seemed shal­low and un­nec­es­sary. But then again, Klimt’s work did thrive in a culture of ex­cess – the op­u­lent up­per crust of Vi­en­nese so­ci­ety, a world in which the Eisen­steins would have felt right at home. And, af­ter sixty sea­sons, Opera Mcgill well de­serves some gold.

Like the char­ac­ters blun­der­ing through Prince Orlof­sky’s lav­ish ball, priv­i­leged and in­su­lated from the out­side world, the au­di­ence at Mon­u­ment-na­tional capped off a long week by watch­ing an opera – an art form so of­ten seen as elit­ist and in­ac­ces­si­ble. But opera should, and of­ten does, en­gage with so­ci­etal is­sues in ways both sub­tle and broad. In Opera Mcgill’s Die Fle­d­er­maus, an ex­traor­di­nar­ily tal­ented young cast took the stage, made musi, and landed jokes with ut­most pro­fes­sion­al­ism. The au­di­ence, en­tranced, was far from in­su­lated. In­stead, af­ter a week of dif­fi­cult head­lines, Die Fle­d­er­maus was the per­fect coda. We could all use a laugh right now.

[Opera Mcgill] de­liv­ered [...] an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance – bril­liantly ex­e­cuted by the stu­dent per­form­ers. The choice [of hav­ing three lan­guages] was a su­per­fi­cial one: it added lit­tle to the pro­duc­tion.

Cour­tesy of Opera Mcgill

Opera Mcgill’s pro­duc­tion of Die Fle­d­er­maus.

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