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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Review: Christopher Alden puts bats in Canadian Opera Company Die Fledermaus belfry

By John Terauds on October 4, 2012

Die Fledermaus - David Pomeroy, James Westman, Tamara Wilson
David Pomeroy, James Westman and Tamara Wilson cavort in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus (Michael Cooper photo).

The Canadian Opera Celebrated the return of Die Fledermaus to its repertoire after a 21-year absence on Thursday night with a glittering new production by American director Christopher Alden that was so very stylish and clever that it constantly got in the way of its own storytelling.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Make no mistake, Alden’s interpretation of Johann Strauss Jr’s most popular comic operetta — one long accepted on fine, serious opera stages everywhere — has a great concept, a brilliant set design by Allen Moyer, Constance Hoffman’s colourful costumes and some of the finest operatic lighting (by Paul Palazzo) that I’ve seen in a long time.

The singing cast is excellent and music director Johannes Debus whipped the score up into a sweet, frothy treat. But although we have all the ingredients for greatness, the whole package manages to fall a few waltz steps short of a ball.

Premiered in Vienna in 1874, this three-act escapade makes no claim to be anything but light entertainment. It’s the story of a philandering bourgeois husband and wife — Eisenstein and Rosalinde — pitted against each other by a friend, Dr Falke, who is getting back at Eisenstein for humiliating him in public with a bat costume. The plot is hatched at a glittering house party and unravelled in a jailer’s office.

Alden has turned Dr Falke into a proto Dr Freud and the resulting story into a strange dream world (one in which the Eisensetein’s conjugal bed rarely leaves the stage) where implausible juxtapositions and sexual fantasy bump up inelegantly against fascist repression. There is quite a bit of dialogue which the production chooses to present in its original German, but some of it, like details of the settings, has been changed a bit to suit the director’s purposes.

The result feels increasingly disjointed as the opera progresses — especially when Rosalinde arrives at the party in disguise, yet refuses to get out of her carriage for the longest time, and in the interminable dénouement in the prison.

Fortunately, the music and the singing make the journey a satisfying one.

Soprano Tamara Wilson is nothing short of spectacular as Rosalinde, her third role for the COC. Tenors Michael Schade (Eisenstein) and David Pomeroy (Alfred) are two of the operetta’s prime muggers, as was soprano Ambur Braid as maid Adèle.

Baritones Peter Barrett, as Dr Falke, and James Westman, as the prison warden, did beautifully in their strangely reimagined roles. The rest of the cast was up to their high standard of fun and commitment, as was Sandra Horst’s chorus.

Although it’s disappointing that Alden’s perspective gets in the way, there really is a lot to enjoy here. To rephrase Rosalinde’s lover Alfred’s song, the motto for getting the most from this production is: “Happy is he who forgets what has been changed.”

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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