Thursday, July 10, 2014

Johann Strauss & The Ohio Light Opera. Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss, Jr.  Die Fledermaus
Performed by the Ohio Light Opera, July 8, 2014, Wooster, Ohio.

At first, I wasn’t going to review this operetta, as Nicholas Jones had already done so for Cleveland Classical (  But as it turns out, most of the major parts for this year were double-cast.   With five of the major performers replaced by others (Gordon, Roberts, Maida, Brian, and Windt), I saw a rather different performance, so I thought I would present my thoughts.

A poster from an earlier era
Die Fledermaus is certainly one of the more famous operettas, with thousands of performances since its 1874 debut.  It celebrates late-19th century Vienna, as one might expect from the hands of Strauss and his librettists, Richard Genée and Karl Haffner.  There champagne flows in abundance, everyone throws wild parties, nobility (real or imagined) are revealed as clever or stupid, and heaping gobs of wealth create the scenes.  The plot revolves around a revenge plan of a Dr. Falke over a practical joke played on him by Eisenstein.  He hopes to embarrass the latter at a party given by a gender-bending Russian Prince.  In the meantime, his wife’s (Rosalinda) lover (Alfred) is forced to make believe he is her husband, and spend the night in jail for him rather than dishonor her in front of the warden (Frank), who has come for Eisenstein.  Are you following the plot?  Well, it gets more complicated in Act II with both Eisenstein and Rosalinda pretending to be nobility at the party, and all hell breaking loose before resolving itself in Act III in a drunken morning move from party to jail.  It’s all rather silly, and the plot is really more of an excuse to play some wonderful music.

Nathan Brian
The music.  I love Strauss’s music, and the OLO Orchestra did a magnificent job with all of it, from the “Overture” to the “Finale.”  The tunes in Die Fledermaus are some of the cream of Strauss’s composing, and his music stays in my head for days after I hear it.  Kudos to the Assistant Conductor, Jonathan Girard, and his able ensemble.  As for the singing, I must say it was a mixed bag.  Some of the singers, notably baritone Nathan Brian as Dr. Falke, soprano Emily Nelson as the maid, Adele, and soprano Tanya Roberts as Rosalinda Eisenstein were delightful.  Brian was especially crisp and articulate in his singing, a quality I look for in male characters and sometimes find wanting.  Nelson’s singing was lovely, with some beautiful runs in her “My Dear Marquis,” and Roberts had a good, strong voice that pierced the rafters of the Freedlander Theatre in her csardas. Some of the other singers were less forceful in their vocals, and the contrast with those I’ve mentioned above made it seem as if they weren’t pushing very hard.  I realize that it’s no simple trick to project over the orchestra’s music to the back rows, but that’s the job.  The ensemble did a very good job overall with the choruses.

Emily Nelson
The other stuff.  The acting was generally quite good, although one expects a certain amount of overacting in this genre for comedic effect,and I got my share.  The sets were well done, as would be expected with the OLO’s usual production standards (the bat on the curtain was great!), and the costuming nicely appointed, although it could easily have been more flamboyant. The dancing was excellent, with just the right amounts of both grace and comedy.  And speaking of comedy, the bit done by Jacob Allen (Frosch, the drunken jailer) between Acts II and III was a riot.  If I quote him correctly when he suggested a line for reviewers about his own performance, “Fantastic!  The best I’ve ever seen!”  

Overall, the OLO has done another fine job of presenting a classic, and the audience was clearly appreciative of their efforts.  I plan to see several more of their productions this season, as I am always engaged and surprised with each performance.  I urge you to support this festival in its 36th year.  There is nothing else like it.

Tanya Roberts
Cast:  Stefan Gordon (Gabriel von Eisenstein), Tanya Roberts (Rosalinda), Anthony Maida (Alfred), Emily Nelson (Adele), Michael Lucas (Dr. Blind), Nathan Brian (Dr. Falke), Jayson Lebaron (Frank), Arielle Schmidt (Sally), Jacob Allen (Frosch), Gretchen Windt (Prince Orlofsky), Spiro Matsos (Ivan), with ensemble, and the OLO Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Girard.
Songs:  Overture.  Act I:  Turtle-Dove Who Flew Aloft; Ah, My Lady Says; When these Lawyers Don’t Deliver; Come Along to the Ball; To Part is Such Sweet Sorrow; Drink, Mr Darling; Good Sir, Are You Accusing Me?; No, No, You Set My Doubts at Rest.  Act II:  What a Joy to be Here; From Time to Time I Entertain; My Friends, Your Kind Attention; My Dear Marquis; How Engaging, How Exciting; Csardas: Voice of My Homeland; Finale: Champagne’s Delicious Bubbles.  Act III:  Entr’acte; Melodrama; Ever Since I was a Baby; To Judge his Expression; Finale.

Jeff Wanser

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