A next-level Fledermaus in Des MoinesReview
Flappers, flirtation, and farce! Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus was genuinely fun from start to finish. Johann Strauss’s operetta is famous for its delightful party scenes, making it a perfect choice for their gala night performance.
I had the pleasure of attending Des Moines Metro Opera’s first Young Friends at the Opera event prior to the performance. The group enjoyed cocktails and socialized on the stage, followed by a dinner and a brief informative lecture on Die Fledermaus. We were even serenaded by the Young Artists during our dinner which was a nice surprise. If you are looking for a fun way to treat yourself and enhance your opera going experience, then I highly recommend it. (Not to mention the price is definitely a bargain.) I sincerely hope that the opera company continues these kinds of events geared towards younger audience members in their future seasons.
Set in the 1920s, the production of Die Fledermaus felt like a party worthy of Gatsby himself (without the tragic ending). The costumes, designed by Jonathan Knipscher, were especially eye catching. Rich hues of blue and purple dominated the stage, and every woman was dripping in fringe and jewels. R. Keith Brumley’s scenic design was equally plush and vivid with Art Deco elegance.
The orchestra, under the direction of Robert Moody, was light, frothy, and refined. Strauss’s music evokes the feeling of dance at all times, and I had to resist the urge to jump up and start waltzing along to the overture.
The cast of Die Fledermaus had great chemistry and comedic timing. Anna Christy was pure effervescence in the role of Adele. Both her arias were vocally brilliant, displaying her impressive high notes and physical comedy. Susannah Biller was magnetic and hilarious in her portrayal of Rosalinda. Her music is the most demanding of the operetta but still should not be taken too seriously by the character. Biller’s vocal performance was sultry with a touch of humor in her rendition of the famous “Czardas” aria.
Prince Orlovsky, sung by Sarah Larsen, was ambiguous and quirky in the best way. Orlovsky’s presence brought out amusing reactions in the other characters, and Larsen perfectly captured his boredom and superiority in her performance of his aria, “Chacun à son gout.”
The male characters of the opera were all enjoyable and humorous. Troy Cook was charming as Dr. Falke, the friend out for revenge, and David Pershall portrayed Eisenstein, the unsuspecting friend victim, as a man who teeters on the edge between likable and unlikable. Craig Irvin’s portrayal of Frank the prison warden was a personable foil to the other characters, and Taylor Stayton poked fun at the stereotypical opera singer in the role of Alfred.
Although Frosch is a relatively minor character in the operetta, Brian Frutiger quite frankly stole the entire last act in my opinion. His physical comedy and drunken slur had the audience in stitches during his first scene, and I think he could have kept ad libbing for an hour without any complaints from the crowd. (If someone could please write “Frosch, the One Man Show: Starring Brian Frutiger”, I would buy a ticket immediately!)
I must once again commend Des Moines Metro Opera’s use of dance in their productions. The choreography by Josh Walden was ingenious. There was a scene where Sally, Adele’s sister, played by Abigail Paschke, performed ballet for the party, and her interactions with the male dancers as she struggled through the routine was comedy gold. At one point, Sally passed out, and the male dancers proceeded to help her finish the performance as if she were a drunk marionette. The sight of her limp body being gracefully directed and lifted around the stage by her annoyed counterparts was enough to send the audience into hysterics.
What took this production of Die Fledermaus to the next level was the brilliant staging by David Gately. Often party scenes in operas have so much going on that it can be overwhelming to watch. Gately managed to craft scenes that were visually broad and stimulating without being distracting. The pacing was energetic without any awkward lulls, and the opera chorus, under the direction of Lisa Hasson, was used strategically to add subtle layers of visual interest and supply the lush vocal backdrop of Strauss’s music.
Die Fledermaus can often come across as frivolous and silly, but what’s wrong with that? We all could use some occasional frivolity in our lives, and Strauss’s operetta is the comedic palate cleanser we need to escape the reality outside the theater doors. So if you are looking for three acts of laughter and beautiful music, Des Moines Metro Opera’s Die Fledermaus has got what you need.