A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, February 28. Continues March 5 to 8
This season, Vancouver Opera has brought audiences a heart-stopping Carmen and the emotionally raw Stickboy. Now the company serves up some decidedly lighter fare, with Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus.
No violent deaths or psychological torture here: this 1874 Viennese comedy of manners is all froth and bubbles. And in the hands of director Nancy Hermiston, who also helms the UBC Opera Ensemble, it’s a positively effervescent production that only rarely slips into buffoonery.
The alcohol-fuelled plot that Strauss hangs his delicious music on is effective, if convoluted. Wealthy Gabriel von Eisenstein is about to report to prison for an eight-day term after having insulted a tax official, but is lured into one last night of waltzing debauchery by his friend, Dr. Falke, at the home of Prince Orlovsky. Little does Eisenstein know that he will become the butt of an elaborate practical joke, in revenge for having once abandoned an intoxicated Falke on a park bench after a costume party, leaving him to walk home in the morning dressed as a bat.
The shenanigans involve his maid Adele and his wife Rosalinde, both of whom end up at Orlovsky’s in disguise. Rosalinde’s former lover, the opera singer Alfred, unwittingly gets caught up in the action when he is mistaken for Eisenstein by the prison and booked in jail in his stead.
It’s a production that requires not just visual spectacle—sumptuous sets from Kansas City Lyric Opera and elaborate costumes from Washington National Opera—but a cast with both comedic acting chops and vocal prowess. Singing in German, with spoken dialogue in English, the all-Canadian cast performs admirably.
Roger Honeywell’s warm, mellifluous tenor is well known to Vancouverites, but less so his skills in physical comedy, which are plentiful. His Eisenstein is a likable bon vivant, with a loping gait and wide-eyed enthusiasm, generating plenty of heartfelt laughter. Soprano Suzanne Rigden, in her VO debut as Adele, possesses a lithe and delicate coloratura, and an impish coquettishness. Soprano Joyce El-Khoury, in her VO debut as Rosalinde, has a rich, rounded soprano, and a confident swagger that shines in Act I as she negotiates first her husband, then her lover, with a wry smile. David Pomeroy as Alfred has a strong voice and lighthearted manner.
Hermiston peppers the show with plenty of visual gags and, for the most part, keeps the actors from overdoing it. The one performer she can’t keep a leash on, though, is Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Gaze, in the speaking role of Frosch, the drunken jailer. In his Act 3 moment in the spotlight, self-referential jokes abound, as do endless Shakespearean quotes played for laughs with scenery-chomping glee. Gaze clearly enjoys mocking himself—perhaps just a little too much.
All in all, it’s a delightful romp that offers pure entertainment: nothing more, nothing less. And who’s to quibble with that? Everyone needs a bit of fizz now and then, and this is brimming over with it.