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Canadian Opera Company
Schade and Wilson in COC’s Fledermaus
© Michael Cooper 2012
Canadian Opera Company turned to director Christopher Alden for its first staging of Die Fledermaus since 1991. Alden viewed the operetta as a portrait of society's urge toward freedom from constraint followed by a "reactionary crackdown on subversive degeneracy." To portray this theme more clearly, Alden shifted the action from the 1870s of Johann Strauss's time to the late 1920s, when the stock market crash and the rise of fascism loomed ahead. While I found Alden's production (seen Oct. 4) initially intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying, the audience greeted Alden and his creative team with sustained applause and volleys of bravos.
Dominating the stage for all three acts was a giant version of Eisenstein's musical pocket watch, which he uses to attract women. Its swinging suggested hypnosis — fittingly enough, for Alden turned Dr. Falke into the psychoanalyst for both Eisenstein and Prince Orlofsky. When Eisenstein and Rosalinde received their invitations to Orlofsky's ball, a floor-to-ceiling crack appeared in Allen Moyer's gray set for Rosalinde's bedroom, revealing dancing party guests from the Act II ensemble, embodying the libidinous freedom the Eisensteins hoped to enjoy.
More radical was Alden's complete reimagining of Frosch, played by German actor Jan Pohl. He was not the comic drunken jailer we normally first meet in Act III but a humorless, proto-fascist policeman who accompanied the warden Frank to the Eisenstein home in Act I in order to deliver the summons to jail. While Frank was soon in bed with Rosalinde — and with her lover Alfred, obviously more interested in him than in her — Frosch stood apart, looking on in disgust. Rather than Frank's taking Eisenstein off to jail at the end of Act II, Alden had Frosch fire his pistol and arrest and incarcerate all the partygoers, most of whom had been clad in witty forms of drag by designer Constance Hoffman.
Alden linked Falke's revenge plot to his efforts to make his patients confront their libidos, a conceit that worked well, even if it resulted in comic overacting. However, Falke's collusion with Frosch to expose Eisenstein's flirting with the disguised Rosalinde suggested that Frosch was somehow part of Falke's plot, which made no sense.
Fortunately, the music was consistently well sung and played. Conductor Johannes Debus chose to emphasize the score's satirical quality, rather than its sentimental effusions, and his Fledermaus came up sparkling, fresh and lean. Tenor Michael Schade reveled in the chance to play comedy and sang with total security and detailed word-highlighting. Soprano Tamara Wilson was certainly his match as a comic actor and effortlessly sustained her final high notes, all except the important one at the end of her Act II csárdás. As Adele, Ambur Braid, the only principal without a perfect German accent, won the audience over with the vivacity and accuracy of her coloratura passages. Peter Barrett was an authoritative, full-voiced Dr. Falke, cloaked in an aura of mystery. David Pomeroy showed off his rich tenor in Alfred's many excerpts of Italian opera. Baritone James Westman stole the show as the sexually ambiguous Frank. As Orlofsky, Laura Tucker had a fine, mellow mezzo-soprano but suffered under direction that did not emphasize her release from boredom into laughter.
During the final champagne song in Act III, Alden did not have Rosalinde reconcile with Eisenstein; instead, she walked off in dismay. Since that song and Orlofsky's reprise of "Chacun à son goût" rather contradicted Alden's notion of ending the operetta in repression, the director had Frosch conveniently disappear. It must be frustrating for a director when an opera's plot won't cooperate with his concept.
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