Die Fledermaus? Die Fleder-fabulous!
Did you ever wonder what it what a anime-circus-drag operetta would look like?
I give you, Opera 5's Die Fledermaus (#O5FM). Johann Strauss II's stalwart favourite was given one of my favourite treatments last night.
At The 918 on Bathurst Street (a former church then Buddhist temple), Opera 5 pulled out all the stops.
The design inspiration is divine. The direction was on point - even if that ever-cursed arch-nemesis 'spoken dialogue' was so prevalent. The orchestra, sublime and the singing was thrilling.
Director Aria Umezawa and Co-Director Jessica Derventzis brought out a clown-expressionist hybrid, played on a two-dimensional set for act I, and then opened into the full hall for acts II and III. The setting of Orlofsky's party as an immersive event was brilliant, and all the players were up to the task. There was an audience participation aspect to some of the show, but it was used judiciously and not in a way that hijacked the narrative (which is a major pitfall with audience participation).
Choreographer Jennifer Nichols of The Extension Room and Method, Opera Atelier Ballet, Hit and Run, and a host of other organizations, used her breadth of experience in court dances to full effect while incorporating some of the cartoonist elements of the stage direction. All the while, the singers sounded fantastic and any little inconsistencies in the choreography added an air of spontaneity to the party scene which is essential to its credibility.
I've been excited for this cast since it was announced and they did not disappoint.
Our leading couple Rosalinda and Eisenstein were given fresh life in Rachel Krehm and Michael Barrett. Krehm's full ringing soprano filled the hall and suited the Viennese style quite well. At times the technique brought her a little out of character, but when she was animated and more physically engaged all that disappeared. Her act II is really delightful. As the cuckold Eisenstein, Barrett's virile intensity married wonderfully with Krehm's full soprano. He was consistently a source of energy for his fellow castmates but at times he would border on the blustery and ran the risk of losing some delightful dialogue. He trod a fine line excellently - you didn't wish him harm, but you were definitely willing to see him get his due.
Singing the role of the spunky chamber maid Adele, soprano Julie Ludwig had an Anna Faris kind of quality where in her portrayal she was at the same time ridiculous but it came from a place of honesty. She was physically committed the whole way through. Her twinkling soprano had some surprising power when she unleashed it, and it married well with the courtly manner of Strauss II's music. Her "Laughing Song" had me in stitches. Brava!
Baritone Keith Lam played the master of vengeance, Dr. Falke. His campy circus/anime characterization was hilarious. We really got a solid dose of Lam's comic timing and skill, which is something I've been waiting for him to unleash for a while. None of his jokes missed their marks, his subtle characterization of a such a huge personality was a treat. His ode to love was beautifully rendered in his lyric, legato voice. Every time he hits the stage he's better and stronger than the last outing and his upward trajectory is really exciting.
It's a very difficult task to play bored without being boring. Erin Lawson's Oksana Orlofsky removed one hurdle by taking it out of breech role territory and made her a super-glam, ultra chic socialite. Her aria - which is deceptively difficult (I speak from experience) was lyrical, smooth, and never once did she drop the audience from the palm of her hand. She moved gracefully from chest to head voice and I found myself desperately wanting her to interact with me.
As her BFF and entourage leader, female impersonator Pearle Harbour was a delight. She brought the right amount of camp to bring this production of Die Fledermaus over the line from the silly to the sublime. A wonderful character actor who brought us an awesome rendition of the Meghan Trainor hit "All About That Bass" during the "divertissement" in act II. Now would also be a good time to give props to the other artists in the mini-cabaret entertainment. We had burlesque dancer Ruby Magnitude and aerialist Jamie Homes bring the house down, and the two ballerinas Drew Berry and Lily McEvenue were delightful additions to both Rosalinda's Csardas and during Ida's hilarious dance solo.
As the persistent if somewhat oblivious lover Alfred, tenor Justin Ralph gave probably the strongest performance I've seen from him yet. His voice has bloomed into a full lyric tone that has an ease over his entire range. He was lovable, charming, quirky and brave. This was a perfect example of what I love in a character tenor, someone who can steal a scene while setting up his scene partners to shine as well.
Dr. Blind and Frank were played wonderfully by Daniel Denino and Geoffrey Penar respectively. Denino slayed some seriously difficult patter singing and Penar's physical comedy was a perfect match for Barrett's Gumby-like physicality in Eisenstein. Adele's sister Ida, who Adele believes invited her to the Orlofsky party in the first place, was hilariously portayed by Madison Angus. It was like seeing an even funnier "Very Mary Kate" up close and in person.
The Opera 5 chorus sang cleanly and precisely and brought a brilliant level of audience engagement which totally obliterated any idea of a "fourth wall". I was brought onstage to waltz, I played shot roulette with a chorus girl named "Bianca", and got bopped over the head with tissue paper lips that exploded into confetti.
Under Patrick Hansen the Opera 5 orchestra played a true Viennese score complete with all the lilt and swoop you crave form the moment the overture starts. There was never an issue of "pit vs. vocals" during the show, which is difficult to accomplish in a place where the orchestra is directly next to the audience and not squirrelled away in a proper pit.
Guys, this is a great kickoff to summer. It's campy, it's fun, there's free beer and snacks. It's exactly the way I think that Strauss II would want to see it performed in this day and age. Seriously, get a group of you together, buy some tickets and go literally have a ball. And even though we all hate audience participation (usually), trust me when I say the more you throw yourself into the scene, the more fun the show will become.
Opera 5's Die Fledermaus runs until June 11th, and once word gets out about how much fun this thing is, it will be hard to get a ticket. You can book yours here. Bravi tutti!
Shout out to Matthew Valle's brilliant production design and Jennifer Lennon's awesome lighting design.