New Chris Alden at the COC: Die Fledermaus

New Chris Alden at the COC: Die Fledermaus

Die Fledermaus at the Canadian Opera Company, new production. Directed by Christopher Alden, conducted by Johannes Debus. Full cast & creative, dates, tickets. Seen on October 9, 2012.

Alden’s Director’s Notes had me at “Rosalinde could well be one of Freud’s hysterical women, trapped in a double standard marriage where the man is free to find fulfillment outside the marriage bed”. It’s a production that takes Rosalinde’s point of view, and this includes her sub-conscious, hypnotic and dream states.

The sets, therefore, steer clear of ‘realism’. The overture plays while we watch Rosalinde (Tamara Wilson) sleeping restlessly alone in her marital bed. Act 1, usually played in Rosalinde’s public salon, here takes place in her bedroom and quite literally on and in her bed. Alfred (David Pomeroy) comes in dressed in a puffed Renaissance suit, precisely the type that Alden would never dress his Rigoletto Duke in, but soon enough strips down to a pink corset. Eisenstein (Michael Schade – another tenor, poor Rosalinde), Adele (Ambur Braid) and the prison ward Frank (James Westman) all circle, sit on, jump on or dunk in the bed to conduct their business. Dr. Falke (Peter Barrett) is a Freud-like character and a master of ceremonies for all three acts. He seems to be the only one with some powers over the four bat women who are present in most scenes, and he dons the bat suit himself in the second act. (Ida, Adele’s sister, happens to be one of the bat-girls.) The bat-people weave in and out of scenes as a Chthonic undercurrent in this pleasure fest. Similar function is performed by the jailers in black military uniforms who function as unexpected accents in some scenes in Act 1 and fully take over in Act 3.

The compact set of Act 1 literally cracks – as does Victorian respectability it is shielding – and the Act 2 party is the most perfectly planned and choreographed Aldenian dreamy universe. The maskenball attendees are men wearing manly tops and frilly garters and high heels, and women in clown- and doll-garb. Frank’s drag gets progressively Gypsy Rose. Prince Orlofsky (Laura Tucker) is depressed, possibly high beyond sobering. At no point does the crowd/chorus just mingle freely about – they are always strictly controlled and placed just so, which stills the scenes in a magic way.

In the “Brüderlein und Schwesterlein” chorus, for example, they are all sitting down in and around the staircase, each person with a pillow. At the “Duidu, Duidu, lalalalala” the pillows form a coordinated (if tipsy) wave that follows the ui-u. When Adele sings “Mein Herr Marquis”, they are all huddling in the corner, each holding a large lollipop. In other scenes, each is holding a card, or waltzing with a pillow. In yet other situations, Alden removes them altogether: they are not around when Rosalinde sings her Czardas aria – she climbs the staircase while the four butlers slide it along the stage, turn it around etc to the music.

It really isn’t an unequivocally sexy party at all – the figures and objects appear to be compounds, perhaps result of the dream-work which includes condensation and displacement. The couples don’t even form for the waltzing sequence – everybody prefers to dance with a pillow (i.e., their own fantasy) rather than a flesh-and-blood person. It’s more of a hypnotized than a sex-hungry crowd.

There are sexy moments, though, most of them to do with Prince Orlofsky. After Adele’s Marquis aria, during a Rosalinde-Eisenstein dialogue in the proscenium, Orlofsky is chatting up Adele up on the staircase. While the chorus is brothering-sistering, if you look to the right end of the stage, Orlofsky and Adele are lying down for some serious making out. Adele’s final aria in the jail is both sexy and funny.

Having read in advance how ‘dark’ the production is, I perhaps went in expecting something bone-chilling. So Act 3 came as a bit of an anti-climax. The return to the repressed state – breached by Act 2 — is led by the police authorities dressed in black uniforms with knee-high boots. Luckily Alden doesn’t use a single swastika – even without obvious fascist symbols we really get the picture. But there are still elements of farce rambling about the jail. Frosch (Jan Pohl), the man of the new era of efficient brutality, is a twitchy jugend Aryan who keeps marching to orders only he can hear in his head. He wears asymmetrical Goth eye makeup (or are those really black-eyes?). Costumes remain intact even in jail, including the peacock on Adele’s head. The final ditties to the King Champaign are sung as an angry reprimand, but the music is so absurdly cheerful that erases any sign of menace. Although watch Prince Orlofsky hug his jail blanket and break down under the weight of some unnamed foreboding.

The singing and the acting were good across board, with some standouts. Ambur Braid was a scream. Her Mein Herr Marquis was sung through her teeth – never seen that before. In Act 1 she kills in “Oje, wie rührt mich dies” with Adele dancing like Popeye’s Olive, all arms and legs. In the final act she cranks up the sexy without stopping being funny. Laura Tucker’s Orlofsky ticked all the boxes. The voice was in splendid health, with easy highs and darkly glowing lows. The Flaschen aria was bananas as it should be. The way Tamara Wilson’s voice cuts through the orchestra, other soloists and the chorus can give some serious goose bumps. For the boys, the flag was carried by David Pomeroy who was a great sport in the role of Alfred that’s in essence a tenor-parody. Both he and Frank (James Westman) were irresistible as muscular, manly men sporting corsets, stockings, boas and negligees in earnest, not campily. Special points go to Peter Barrett’s Dr. Falke who had to learn all those bat wing movements and spends the entire third act hanging from the gigantic clock, bat wings and all, observing the denouement.

All photos by Michael Cooper. From top to bottom: Tamara Wilson (Rosalinde) with Ambur Braid (Adele); Laura Tucker (Prince Orlofsky), the bat girls and Michael Schade (Eisenstein); Peter Barrett (Dr. Falke), Michael Schade, Tamara Wilson and Jan Pohl (Frosch); Ambur Braid and Laura Tucker in the background, Michael Schade and David Pomeroy (Frank) in the front.

7 thoughts on “New Chris Alden at the COC: Die Fledermaus

  1. Ha!ha! Yes it really didn’t work for me and thought putting the poor soprano on a tree trunk while singing Cast Diva was an awful move…I just didn’t want to bitch about it pointlessly. He seemed to not have enough trust in Bellini’s work and any amount of sophistry can’t hide that.
    I regret not writing about the brilliant Giulio Cesare I saw the same long weekend in Newcastle…by Tim Albery, now that was gorgeous!

  2. Thanks for the (eagerly-awaited) review! Frivolity meets fin-de-siecle anxiety (or vice versa): am I totally off-target in thinking that the finished product sounds not unlike an Ophuels film?

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