Music by Johann Strauss Jr.
Three acts of topsy-turvy merriment
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Fresh from the San Francisco Opera—and equally so from its original venue, Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s ever-green masterpiece is the most inebriating operetta ever written. Watching it leaves you woozy, the famous waltzes mellowing and marinating an audience in their maudlin magnificence. The incarnation of holiday abandonment, especially New Year’s Eve fetes with its twin toasts to champagne, Die Fledermaus delivers three acts of topsy-turvy celebrations.
And transformations, committed at a ball thrown by a bored young Russian prince: A capricious maid masquerades as an actress; a wife intent on exposing her philandering husband doubles as a Hungarian countess: the jailer of the prison where that husband was supposed to turn himself in for an eight-day sentence impersonates the “Chevalier de Chagrin,” while the all-too-wayward husband becomes the foxy “Marquis Renard.” In the cleverest deception of all, Prince Orlovsky, as played by Emily Fons, is as bright and spry a sprite as the original nobleboy.
The froth never settles in E. Loren Meeker’s intoxicating staging. Wolfram Skalicki’s brilliant cut-away sets open with a stage-stretching blow-up of the original program for the 1874 “Komische Operette,” then reveal the Eisenstein mansion as a huge Victorian doll house. Orlovsky’s Viennese villa is first shown as a noble façade, which opens up into a vast vestibule with huge semi-erotic painting, and finally the balcony-laden ballroom (inevitably recalling the venue for Verdi’s masked ball). Finally, a very empty jail soon fills to bursting in the hung-over third act: At last all the “mistakes of a night” are sorted out in a cascade of poetic justice.
As playful as regal, these storybook settings serve up Strauss’ strudel with contagious delight. So does the fail-proof cast, with Michael Spyres almost too animated as the horny husband, his mischief-making elegantly undermined by Juliane Banse’s commanding Rosalinde (a tad weak on the final note of the famous “Czardas,” but bewitching enough). Like many here, Banse fully engages in the second act’s elaborate ballet: Choreographer Daniel Pelzig cleverly integrates other selections by Strauss into the already irresistible social dances of the soiree’s programme, ¾ glories performed by the tipsy “Bruderlein und Schwesterlein” with “chacun a son gout.”
Daniela Fally commits herself completely to spitfire Adele’s “Laughing Aria” and “Audition Song.” As the stage-managing Dr. Falke, Adrian Eröd magisterially presides over his revenge against Eisenstein for publically humiliating him. (His “friend” allowed him to pass out, dressed as a bat, in public, where he was mocked as he flapped his way home.) David Cangelosi dithers dutifully as the slippery lawyer Dr. Blind, Andrew Shore incarnates Frank’s blundering civil servant, and Fred A. Wellisch turns the third-act’s opening into both vaudeville and an imitation of the comical porter in “Macbeth.” (There’s even a slam at the Mayor of Toronto in Frosch’s shamelessly anachronistic comic monologue.)
Ward Stare conducts Lyric Opera’s consummate orchestra with Bacchanalian gusto, just the light touch that this silly stuff deserves. Strauss’ bat has seldom soared so high. Prost!
Die Fledermaus continues through January 18th at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map). Tickets are $34-$274, and are available by phone (312-322-2244) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LyricOpera.org. (Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes, includes two intermissions)
Photos by Dan Rest
Juliane Banse (Rosalinde), Bo Skovhus (Eisenstein), Daniela Fally (Adele), Adrian Eröd (Falke), Michael Spyres (Alfred), Emily Fons (Prince Orlofsky), Andrew Shore (Frank), David Cangelosi (Dr. Blind), Fred Wellisch (Frosch), Julie Anne Miller (Ida), Will Liverman (Ivan)
behind the scenes
Ward Stare (conductor), E. Loren Meeker (director), Wolfram Skalicki (set design), Daniel Pelzig (choreographer), Thierry Bosquet (costume design), Duane Schuler (lighting design), Michael Black (chorus master), Dan Rest (photos)