Stage Door Review

Die Fledermaus

Dec 30, 2018

✭✭✭✭✩

by Johann Strauss, Jr., directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin

Toronto Operetta Theatre, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto

December 28, 29, 30, 31, 2018 & January 2, 2019

Dr. Falke: “Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein,

Laßt das traute Du uns schenken

Für die Ewigkeit, immer so wie heut”

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s latest staging of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus is one of the best productions it has ever mounted. All of the principals are fine singers and actors, the 12-member TOT Orchestra under the baton of Derek Bate sounds like a premier salon orchestra and Guillermo Silva-Marin has directed the operetta with clarity and wit. Overflowing with humour and memorable melodies Die Fledermaus is the perfect way to see out the old year and ring in the new.

Too often in productions of Die Fledermaus, directors are so keen on cutting the dialogue down to the bone or on imposing their own concept on the piece, as in the COC’s depressing production of 2012 of 2012, that the reason for the title (“The Bat”) or its English subtitle (“The Revenge of the Bat”) is quite obscure. Fortunately, in the current TOT production Silva-Marin makes the plot absolutely clear. The “Bat” of the title is Dr. Falke (Michael Robert-Brode) a friend of Gabriel Eisenstein (Adam Fisher) from university. He has that name because once he and Gabriel attended a fancy dress ball – Eisenstein as a butterfly and Falke as a bat. After the ball Eisenstein played a mean practical joke on Falke that he has never forgotten.

As revenge for that joke Falke is the secret mastermind behind the entire plot of the operetta. He is the one who is responsible for getting Eisenstein the evening off from a week’s jail time for insulting a police officer and he is the one behind inviting both Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinda (Lara Ciekiewicz) and her maid Adele (Caitlin Wood) along with the prison warden Frank (Janaka Welihinda) all to the ball held by the Russian Prince Orlovsky (Elizabeth Beeler). Orlovsky, who is always bored, has permitted Falke’s shenanigans because Flake promises that the results will make him laugh. Silva-Marin cleverly makes certain we understand Falke’s importance by having him appear during the overture with Eisenstein’s lawyer Dr. Blind (Sean Curran) addressing the red-enveloped invitations that the characters will receive throughout the first act.

Indeed, Act 2 finds virtually all the characters of Act 1 at Orlovsky’s ball except all are in disguise or using false names. A large part of the operetta’s carnivalesque atmosphere comes from people pretending not to recognize people they do recognize or people failing to recognize other people they should know. The libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée of 1874 (here translated by Ruth and Thomas Martin) even looks forward to the metatheatrical plays of Luigi Pirandello by explicitly presenting the encounters and disguises Dr. Falke has manufactured as a play he has created for Orlovsky’s amusement.

Silva-Marin’s cast for Die Fledermaus is one of the strongest he has ever assembled. All the principals are excellent singers and all are fine actors with a natural gift for comedy. Foremost among them is soprano Lara Ciekiewicz as Rosalinda who has a lovely full soprano capable of tossing off all the coloratura fireworks that Strauss throws her way. Ciekiewicz can show Rosalinda’s sense of irony with the subtlest of glances. Directors often treat Rosalinda’s big number, the czárdás “Klänge der Heimat” as if it were absolutely serious, but Silva-Marin knows, as does Ciekiewicz, that Rosalinda is not the Hungarian she pretends to be so that she is able to give the sentimentality of the song an uncommon satiric twist.

Soprano Caitlin Wood is a real find as Adele. She is able to convey the maid’s initial innocence but she shows that once she sees how well she is accepted at Prince Orlovsky’s ball she is increasingly emboldened to express her secret desire of going on the stage. She carries off Adele famous “Laughing Song” ("Mein Herr Marquis") with complete naturalness and aplomb and brings a sweet naïveté to Adele’s equally famous “Audition Song” ("Spiel' ich die Unschuld vom Lande").

Tenor Adam Fisher is always a welcome performer with TOT who last made a fine impression as Paris in Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène earlier this year. As Eisenstein, he comically conveys the proud man’s hypocrisy – angry that his wife should have an admirer yet happy that he can attend the party to indulge in a little flirting. Yet, Fisher’s full, warm tenor helps make his character a man whose flaws are forgivable.

As Rosalinda’s ardent admirer the singer Alfred, Cian Horrobin is rapidly developing a powerful Italianate tenor voice. Much of the humour in Act 1 comes from how Alfred seduces Rosalinda through singing excerpts of Italian opera, all of which Horrobin does very convincingly.

Michael Robert-Brode has a lovely, cultured baritone as Dr. Falke. He is thus has the perfect tone to sing the operetta’s most beautiful aria, "Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein” (“Sing to Love”) that for an important few minutes changes the mood of the action from gaiety to reflection and deepens the tone of the piece from a satire of Viennese society to a sympathetic view of all humanity.

Elizabeth Beeler, who sang Adele in the TOT’s production of Die Fledermaus in 2004, now sings the trousers role of Prince Orlovsky and easily finds the humour in his snobbishness and boredom. She leads a lively rendition of the Prince’s statement of his “anything goes” morality in “Chacun à son goût”.

One might not expect a prison warden to sing, but Strauss has Frank do so and Janaka Welihinda gives a fine account of the role with his strong, full baritione. Welihinda is also adept at spoken comedy as when he and Eisenstein are suddenly forced to speak French to each other even though neither knows the language.

One of the great virtues of Silva-Marin’s production is that he does away with the long spoken comedy of the jailer Frosch in Act 3. That sometimes works if an especially good comedian takes the part, but more often than not the long stretch of speech puts a damper on the musical effervescence that has gone before. Instead, Silva-Marin changes Frosch into a lovably humble, would-be opera singer who is only too glad to have a few free lessons from Alfred, who has been mistaken for Eisenstein. This strategy allows the music and humour to keep flowing. Horrobin gets to sing a vibrant rendition of “Questa o quella” from Verdi’s Rigoletto and both get to sing the well-known Neapolitan song “O sole mio”. As usual it is always a pleasure when Silva-Marin has a chance to sing.

The TOT Orchestra give a taut but expressive account of the score that includes Strauss’s “Thunder and Lightning Polka” as an entr’acte before Act 3. Conductor Derek Bate knows how to give Strauss’s waltzes just the right Schwung that makes them so exciting. The TOT’s Fledermaus is a production that leaves you aglow with happiness and proud that Toronto has a company like this to champion operetta and more than able to bring off one of the greatest operettas with such panache.

Christopher Hoile

Note: This review is a Stage Door exclusive.

Photos: (from top) Caitlin Wood as Adele and Elizabeth Beeler as Prince Orlovsky; Adam Fisher as Eisenstein; Lara Ciekiewicz as Rosalinda and Cian Horrobin as Alfred. © Gary Beechey.

For tickets, visit www.torontooperetta.com.