OPERA NEWS - Die Fledermaus
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Die Fledermaus

Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance

THE PERENNIAL CHARMS of Die Fledermaus were on delightful display at the Kaye Playhouse (July 8), courtesy of this year’s talented participants in the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance. The tuition-free summer program offers a unique opportunity for young singers to perform complete roles with full orchestra, and more often than not, the audience witnesses them blossoming in real time as the evening progresses. This was the case with Haley Sicking’s creamily sung Rosalinde and Shana Grossman’s cut-glass Adele. Both sopranos started off perfectly capably, but came into their own in Act II. Sicking’s Rosalinde suffered at first from murky intentions; it wasn’t clear how she felt about Alfred, Eisenstein, or even Adele. But liberated behind her feathered mask, she tapped into the character’s canny side and became a worthy adversary for her philandering husband. Where most Adeles enter the ball already transformed, Grossman stumbled in clumsily, as if she’d never before worn a gown and high heels. She comported herself like a chambermaid out of bathwater—until the laughing song. At that point, character and performer each tapped her inner actress, and Grossman sailed through the rest of the evening with attractive brilliance. 

By contrast, Jonathan Tetelman hit the ground running as Eisenstein. He burst onto the scene seething with indignant arrogance, and maintained a galvanizing presence that forced his colleagues to match his intensity or be swallowed up. Eisenstein can be tricky to cast, and the role could be a valuable calling card for the tall, dashing baritone-turned-tenor. The high notes posed no problem, but unlike many tenors who essay the role, Tetelman had the heft and color to carry the lower portions. Hongni Wu made it clear that Prince Orlofsky was only affecting his ennui, barely concealing a ravenous curiosity about his guests. She sang with a firm, well-pointed mezzo, smoothing over the jerky rhythms in “Chacun à son goût.” Proving the adage that there are no small roles, Paul Grosvenor was a standout as an unusually bon vivant Frank. In character even when sitting on a bench upstage enjoying his champagne buzz, Grosvenor is a natural actor with a supple baritone who makes a big impression with little apparent effort. Spencer Hamlin milked delicious humor from the self-involved, three-tenors-wannabe Alfred, while showing off his dazzling Italianate voice. 

Thaddaeus Bourne was a suave Dr. Falke, but his hurt at his friend’s betrayal was never far from the surface. Joseph Sacchi stuttered amusingly as the fussy, frazzled Dr. Blind, and Chelsea Bonagura was a charming, unaffected Ida. Broadway veteran Steven Mo Hanan took on Frosch, the drunken jailor. Although the opera was sung and spoken in German, Hanan delivered his dialogue in English, providing a narrative band-aid that made the transposition plausible. Some jokes landed better than others, but Hanan played the audience deftly. 

Director Gina Lapinski’s expert touches ranged from the subtle (delicate wrist and ankle flicks conveying stifled joy in “Oje, oje, wie rührt mich dies”) to the expedient (clearing the stage so the Eisensteins could turn the watch duet into a full-on skirmish). The handsomely costumed chorus sang with energy and joie de vivre, but the orchestra, unfortunately, fell short of Prelude’s usual standards. The players were overmatched by Johann Strauss’s note-heavy score, and conductor Steven M. Crawford led a plodding, unidiomatic reading that left the singers, who had a better feel for the wax and wane of Strauss’s lilting phrases, struggling against the pit too much of the time.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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