An Intoxicating Die Fledermaus at Light Opera Works in Evanston
Reviewed by: Jim Schneider
Johann Strauss’ (the waltz king) Viennese confectionary farce Die Fledermaus premièred on 5 April 1874 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. The original literary source for Die Fledermaus was Das Gefängnis (The Prison), a farce by German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix that premiered in Berlin in 1851. On 10 September 1872 a three-act French vaudeville play by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Le Réveillon, loosely based on the Benedix farce, opened at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.
However this now-beloved operetta celebrating champagne, infidelity and revenge was not a big success when it premiered on Easter Sunday; it was considered too vulgar and shocking to be presented on such a holy day. It was not until 1895 that it took off, being presented by composer Gustave Mahler for the first time in German in the highly respected opera house of Hamburg, and has since entered into the opera house repertoire for an occasional performance, usually around New Years.
This is a hilarious revenge story about the indiscretions of Rosalinde and her husband Gabriel von Eisenstein and his lawyer and good friend Dr. Falke taking out revenge for a practical joke Eisenstein played on him when after a drunken night at a costume ball, leaves him passed out in a park clad as a Fledermaus (German for bat).
Rosalinde (played and sung masterfully by the incomparable soprano and actress Alicia Berneche) is visited by her ex-lover, the tenor Alfredo (Tobias Wright, an immensely talented comic actor with a powerful voice) who has the intention of spending the evening with her. Just as he is shooed away her husband Gabriel von Eisenstein (Michael Cavalieri is the best I have seen & heard) comes storming in with his attorney, Dr. Blind and news that he has been sentenced to eight days in jail for insulting an official. Dr. Falke appears with an invitation for Eisenstein to attend a lavish ball at the villa of Russian Prince Orlofsky (a magnificent turn by the baritone/tenor William Dwyer). Unknowingly to Eisenstein he gives Rosalinde an invitation to attend as well. Eisenstein leaves to “go to prison” while Rosalinde takes this time to entertain her lover, Alfredo. The maid Adele (played to perfection by soprano Kelly Britt) has receives a letter from her friend, Ida, about Orlofsky’s ball and lies to Rosalinde that her Aunt has taken ill (again) and that she needs to be by her sickbed. Rosalinde gives her the night off so she and Alfredo can be alone.
Enter the prison warden Frank (superbly played and sung by baritone Russell Hoke) to take Eisenstein off to serve his eight day sentence before he too heads off to Orlofsky’s ball. Rosalinde has no choice but to give him Alfredo in order to avoid a scandal and tarnish her good name in society. Act one ends with Alfredo going off to prison, Frank to the ball and Rosalinde opening the letter/invitation to the ball.
Not to give the rest of the plot away the joke ends at the prison where all is revealed, forgiven and massive amounts of champagne consumed.
I have seen numerous productions of Die Fledermaus over the years. Most have bad, clunky translations, over the top acting, mediocre singing, funeral tempos, bad comic timing or a combination of all of the above. I will say, without a doubt, Light Opera Works production directed by Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller is the finest I have seen in 36 years. He has combined the right singers with razor sharp comic timing and magnificent vocal capabilities, the finest Musical Direction and conducting from Roger Bingaman, an outstanding 30 piece orchestra, a simple but ingenious Art Nouvea set by the brilliant Adam Veness complimented by Andrew Meyers beautiful lighting, some of the most sumptuous costumes I have seen at Light opera Works by Jana Anderson and the finest adaptation I have come across by Quade Winter with a racy and hysterically witty libretto by Carl Haffner and Richard Genee. This Die Fledermaus is the total package.
As a director myself I ultimately judge a production by the sum of its parts and this is a rare instance where they all fit to perfection. On opening day the cast played with such a sense of freedom, abandon and joy (not to mention the most precise diction so I could understand every word) that it intoxicated the audience.
Upon leaving the theatre I overheard long-time patrons of LOW use the words “expertly done”, “outstanding” and “brilliant”. Not only is this one of the finest and nearly flawless productions I have seen from Rudy Hogenmiller and Light Opera Works (who has many hits to his and LOW’s credit) it is one of the finest productions I have reviewed in 2016; this is a not-to-be-missed production. It only runs for 6 more performances so hurry and get your ticket. What better way to spend the close of 2016 than being caught up in the intoxicating and exhilarating Strauss masterpiece Die Fledermaus.
Beginning in January of 2017 Light Opera Works is changing their name to Music Theater Works. If this is the last of the operettas they will present they can know they have gone out on the highest note possible. If not, I look forward to seeing more of these jewels on the stage at Cahn Auditorium under the superb oversight of Rudy Hogenmiller and Executive Director Bridget McDonough.
Die Fledermaus is presented in English and runs through January 1, 2017. Tickets may be purchased through the Light Opera Works Box Office – 847-920-5360 or on their website – www.Lightoperaworks.com.