Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
For high opera (actually an operetta), the Tri-Cities Opera production of Die Fledermaus is as low-brow as you can get.
The production, which opened last night (Friday, May 2) at The Forum in Binghamton, tapped every hilarious comedy convention you can name – funny accents, self-deprecating humor, slapstick, drunken pratfalls and, of course, mistaken identities with dire and amusing consequences. The show abounds with silliness, ad libs, inappropriately cited literary quotes, one-liners, references to current events and puns galore. From beginning to end, the show was a high-spirited romp and sheer joy to see and hear.
This, the last production of TCO’s “65 and So Alive” season, was directed by David Lefkowich (stage) and Brian DeMaris (music), who have perfected their act with collaborations at some of the nation’s most prestigious opera theaters and musical theater venues. Lefkowich directed with the deft hand of a stand-up comic, while DeMaris polished the singing and the orchestral accompaniment until it sparkled. I’ve never heard the TCO orchestra sound better, as under DeMaris’ baton.
Costume designer Andrea Lenci-Cerchiara (and a whole crew of seamstresses) and scenic designer Karen Kozlowski are to be congratulated on the all-new and perfectly gorgeous costumes and sets. The painted curtain screen was particularly beautiful.
A raised glass of champagne for all the leads, who sang beautifully. Melanie Leinbach as the chambermaid Adele, Perry Davis Harper as Baron Eisenstein, Rebecca Heath as Rosalinda and Emily Geller as Prince Orlofsky (a “trouser role” conventionally played by a woman) are to be especially commended. Jake Stamatis, as the jailer Frosch, never sang a note yet stole the third act with his hilarious delivery of lines.
Kevin Truax as Alfred, the Italian lover, played the annoying tenor role to the hilt, but his speaking voice, in mock Italian accent, didn’t project and was difficult to understand. The all-volunteer opera chorus, appearing in Acts II and III, sang with great gusto, talent and obvious enjoyment.
Die Fledermaus premiered in 1874 in Vienna and has since brightened the repertoire of opera companies worldwide. Twenty years after its production as a lyric opera in Vienna, Mahler raised the artistic status of Johann Strauss Jr.’s work by producing it at the Hamburg Opera House. A minor criticism: Strauss might have shortened the second act by eliminating a couple of gratuitous songs that didn’t advance the plot line (the show ran three hours and 10 minutes, with two intermissions), but then again, those are the catchiest songs in Die Fledermaus and the “ear worms” that will haunt you for days after leaving the opera house.
Although the production is sung in English,TCO still used projected supertitles. They were very helpful, as so many of the songs were sung with mock Italian, Hungarian or other foreign accents.
Humorous touches abounded. The West Highland Terrier Lizzie, winner of the TCO’s best dog contest, made a cameo appearance as Orlofsky’s “Royal Dog.” She was cute as the dickens in her 30-second appearance.
A few one-liners to remember:
• “She (a fake Hungarian countess) sings as if she has paprika in her veins.”
• “There ought to be a law against singing opera before noon.”
• “Within six months, she’ll be singing at the Metropolitan – selling life insurance!”
The evening was dedicated to legendary music accompanist Irene Kanazawich, a TCO stalwart from the company’s earlier days, and was preceded by a standing ovation and applause in memory of retired TCO Artistic Director Duane Skrabalak, who died late last month.
IF YOU GO: For an afternoon of fun and merriment, and some of the best music around, catch the closing performance at 3 p.m. Sunday (May 4) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Call 772-0400 or visit www.tricitiesopera.com for tickets.