Thursday, November 13, 2014

Portland Opera uncorks zestful Fledermaus for its 50th anniversary

Photo Credit: Portland Opera
Portland Opera kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with a high-spirited performance of “Die Fledermaus” on Friday night (November 7th) at Keller Auditorium. The funny and light-hearted story of this opera, laced with a pearl string of waltz-inflected tunes, generated lots of frothy warmth to a full house. It fittingly harkened back to the very first production of Portland Opera, when Johann Strauss Jr.’s popular Viennese farce was presented at the Madison High School auditorium in December of 1964.

A solid cast of principals who were equally at home in the realm of comic timing, made it all work, starting with Daniel Belcher in the role of Gabriel von Eisenstein. Belcher marvelously captured the impulsiveness, bravado, and fatuousness wrapped in charm of von Eisenstein. His baritone exhibited an engagingly warm, ringing tone that was pure gold.

As von Eisenstein’s wife, Rosalinde, Mary Dunleavy sang with assured grace even in difficult situations like when she had to fend off the groping Alfred (Ryan MacPherson). Her singing of the csardas inspired “Klänge der Heimat” (Sounds of the Homeland”) was a highlight of the evening.

MacPherson was an ardent and agile Alfred, singing with panache while climbing over window sills or pulling Rosalinde on top of him while reclining on a divan. Susannah Biller sparkled as Adele with a brilliant tone and terrific precision, and her singing of “Mein Herr Marquis” was a gem of a number during the big party scene in the second act.

Eisenstein and Falke with watch / Photo credit: Portland Opera
Jennifer Rivera drew lots of laughs as the dour and bored Prince Orlovsky, especially with the triple-gestured salute that she gave to her guests. The best surprise of the evening was André Chiang’s formidable baritone in the role of Dr. Falke. This bodes well for Chiang a former Portland Opera Resident Artist, and his burgeoning career. One of the current resident artists, Ian José Ramirez, aptly conveyed the mannerisms of the fretful Dr. Blind, yet he needed to project a lot more in order to be heard.

The orchestra, under Music Director George Manahan, sounded exuberant and slightly expansive like a good Tokaji. The chorus, prepared by, prepared by Nicholas Fox, sang with gusto. The scenery, provided by Seattle Opera, and costumes, by Washington National Opera, were traditional, providing context that set the story in the late Nineteenth Century.

Rosalinde singing  the csardas at Orlovsky's party / Photo credit: Portland Opera
“Die Fledermaus” is one of those operas where you have the liberty to cut some passages and insert others. So during the jailhouse scene, Adele followed a glittery "Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande" ("When I play the innocent from the countryside") with “Frühlingsstimmen,” (“Voices of Spring”), which most folks recognize in its orchestral version, but it does have text, and Biller sang it with élan. And while she sang, a ballet of office chairs with damsels propelled by Ivan (Lance Hunter) swirled about.

Director Chas Rader-Shieber made sure that there wasn’t a dull moment and that the interactions between the characters flowed smoothly. Assistant Director and Choreographer Matthew Ferraro added several humorous touches, including a sequence in which some of the female dancers take a tumble down the grand staircase at Orlovsky’s palace.

The character of Frosch the jailer got a refreshingly new take. Usually he is a good-natured drunk who has just enough charm to win over the audience. In this production, Frosch (Rick Huddle) was totally alert yet a little spooked by the mysterious lighting at the jail.

Members of BodyVox, including one of its artistic directors Jamey Hampton, made special guest appearances during the party scene in the second act. These were very witty and athletic performances that the audience ate up, yet Orlovsky remained unsmiling. For each performance, different special guests have been invited, and that should continue to make this anniversary production of “Die Fledermaus” an delightful crowd-pleaser.

Members of BodyVox (Jamey Hampton on right) pose during intermission with an admirer

No comments: