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SCRUTINY | Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Die Fledermaus Is A Holiday Hit

By Paula Citron on December 29, 2022

Guillermo Silva-Marin as Frosch, Scott Rumble as Alfred in Toronto Operetta Theatre's Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)
Guillermo Silva-Marin as Frosch, Scott Rumble as Alfred in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)

Toronto Operetta Theatre/Die Fledermaus, composed by Johann Strauss, Jr., English version by Ruth and Thomas Martin, directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin, conducted by Derek Bate, Jane Mallett Theatre, Dec. 28 to Dec. 31. Tickets here.

TOT’s latest incarnation of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s most famous operetta is a real holiday treat. Die Fledermaus has a clever plot, lots of humour, and most of all, glorious music. Every tune is hummable, and you’ll be singing at least one or two of the songs for the rest of the week.

It’s hard to believe that the first time TOT put on Die Fledermaus was 1994, but since then, and quite a few incarnations later, the company has become past masters at mounting this beloved operetta.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, the subtitle is The Revenge of the Bat. It seems that Viennese businessman Gabriel Eisenstein (tenor Keith Klassen) left his drunken friend, the lawyer Dr Falke (baritone Colin Mackey), asleep in a bat costume in front of the law courts, much to his humiliation. Falke’s revenge is to humiliate Eisenstein in return.

That revenge takes place at a party at Prince Orlofsky’s villa (baritone Gregory Finney) and involves Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinda (soprano Kirsten LeBlanc) and their chambermaid Adele (soprano Andrea Nunez).

A further complication is that Rosalinda’s former lover, Italian opera star Alfredo (tenor Scott Rumble), is arrested by prison governor Frank (baritone Handaya Rusli) in place of Eisenstein (who has to go to jail for assaulting a police officer). Another key member of the cast is opera-loving Frosch, the jailer (baritone Guillermo Silva-Marin).

Andrea Núñez as Adele and Gregory Finney as Orlofsky in Toronto Operetta Theatre's Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)
Andrea Núñez as Adele and Gregory Finney as Orlofsky in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)

As per usual, Silva-Marin not only directed, but is responsible for the set and lighting, as well as additional topical dialogue and lyrics. (Donald Trump in particular came in for a drubbing.)

I assume it was a cost-saving measure to perform the operetta in modern dress with a few rentals, like Frosch’s jail guard outfit. Every male member of the cast, including the chorus, is going to have a tuxedo (for choirs and solos), while every woman is going to have a performance gown. At any rate, it all worked, except for Adele’s chambermaid outfit of a too-smart blouse and slacks.

The two specialty costumes were Orlofsky’s pink velvet embroidered suit (which I think is Finney’s own, as we’ve seen it before), and Alfredo’s gold toreador outfit that looked like he was poured into it. It was all very amusing, to say the least.

A sort of minor miracle occurred. Diction seemed to be marginally improved, not a lot, but at least more than usual. Many of the musical ensembles in Die Fledermaus carry forth the plot, so good diction is helpful, but there was, alas, still a great deal of mush. Lack of clear diction remains my greatest complaint against TOT.

Despite that, Maestro Derek Bate got a lovely sound from his 9-member orchestra, and gorgeous choral work from the massed ensemble. “Sing to love”, as “Brüderlein und Schwesterlein” is known in this English version, was absolutely stunning in harmony and cadence. It was also very clever to play The Radetzky March by Strauss, Sr. to cover the set change to Act 3. The audience clapped along as custom in the spirit of the piece.

Which brings us to the singers.

Kirsten LeBlanc as Rosalinda in Toronto Operetta Theatre's Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)
Kirsten LeBlanc as Rosalinda in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Die Fledermaus (Photo: Gary Beechey)

LeBlanc has a huge soprano, and I’m sure they heard her in Mississauga. (You can always get a big laugh just by mentioning the word Mississauga, as happened in this performance.) It is an arcing voice that was twice as loud as anyone else’s. There is a stark beauty as well, and the top remains firm but not shrill. Is there a Brunhilde in her future? LeBlanc has to work on diction, though, as hers was the worst of the cast.

Nunez has the pert coloratura needed for the role of Adele. It is a very pretty soprano with an ease of delivery. She also has terrific acting skills.

Alas, tenor Klassen showed strain at his very top, so perhaps his very distinguished career is beginning to wind down. The bottom register is still rich and full, but the top is worrisome.

Tenor Rumble is a revelation. The guy can toss off high notes like no tomorrow. I notice he’s getting roles like Steuermann for Vancouver Opera’s The Flying Dutchman, which bodes well for his career. It also helps that he’s relatively tall and good-looking. He is definitely one to watch.

Interestingly, I recently saw baritone Mackey in the Glenn Gould School’s Venus and Adonis and wrote that I’d like to see him in something where his voice could take flight as I felt that early music was hemming him in, et voilà, here he is. Mackey has a very pleasant if light voice, but it is still a baby baritone. His pacing, phrasing and delivery are all masterful, so it is just having to develop strength in output.

It’s hard to believe that Rusli is classed as a baritone because he has a deep, rumbling, hearty voice. I would have said bass-baritone, even a bass. Maybe that is where he is heading. It is commanding, that is for sure.

Silva-Marin and Finney are both former tenors who have established new careers as character baritones. The former certainly still has strength, while Finney’s sound is unravelling a bit around the edges. Nonetheless, these old pros know how to work the stage.

Overall, this production of Die Fledermaus touches all the boxes of Viennese schmaltz, which is what you want to see and hear in this beloved operetta.


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Paula Citron
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