Opera Five team got it exactly right: this is how you do the central act of Die Fledermaus today, as immersive live entertainment that is not necessarily waltzing and polka, but of its own age, and as naughty as you’re willing to dare. Director Aria Umezawa and the team added to the ball a top notch bourlesque act by Ruby Magnitude and immediately after the aerialist Jamie Holmes (both stunning Rita Hayworth-y redheads), a Justin Bieber lip sync tribute band, and a tremendous queered up and adulted up rendition of “All About That Base” by the MC Pearle Harbour (Justin Miller). Originally a pop song by Meghan Trainor, Pearle’s imporoved lyrics (“Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” became “Every inch of you is perfect whether you’re the bottom or the top” for ex) improved the otherwise low-ish queer content of the shindig. Yes, Keith Lam made a unique Dr. Falke in his pink Hello Kitty gear and the men of the chorus all sported exquisite makeup of the Rocky Horror elaborateness, but the relationships among the central characters remained very straight with the removal of the trousered Orlofsky. Here she is Oksana Orlofska (Erin Lawson), a Swarowski Kristall-type heiress with an entourage. The flirting between Orlofsky and Adele is completely removed–also between Orlofsky and anybody else at the party, as Ms Orlofska is quite out of reach. Says Umezawa in her program notes: “I felt it would be strange to have a pants-role, and not explain why our mezzo is dressed as a man (particularly to those members of the audience who are not familiar with operatic conventions)”. Wirklich? I’m sure at least some of the people in that audience would have heard of gay women, no? Or of drag kinging (cf what Pearle does, apply to opposite gender)? People like Marlene Dietrich and Madonna have been known to suit up with a certain degree of success?
But okay. Let’s put that under quibbles, because everything else works perfectly in act II. “Bruderlein und Schwesterlein” is luckily kept, and includes “confetti kisses” with the audience–gently hitting the chosen people with lip-shaped paper creations that exploded confetti. The dances were with the members of the audience too, and though not explicitly encouraged, some of us did join in during the choruses–those in Adele’s laughing song, for example, were absolutely irresistible.
Speaking of singing, all the voices were very much equal to the task, with a couple of people standing out. Julie Ludwig was a consistently accomplished Adele, a crystalline soubrette with effortless coloratura. There’s something about Michael Barrett’s stage presence that always works even when his character doesn’t (the French stereotype jokes around Monsieur Deloup wear thin pretty quickly). He is a real bête de scène, apropos French phrases. The small orchestra conducted by Patrick Hansen did their darndest to convey the razzle dazzle of the original orchestral score.
Now what of Acts I and III? Did the rest of the opera’s update work, by which I mean was it entertaining? Occasionally. The two-dimensional and artificial set and prop design in Act I worked really well, but there was a lot of hammed up ‘acting’ and making fun of the words and situations rather than making them funny–something of a curse of the Toronto’s indie opera scene. Act III was brilliantly introduced by marking the stage area off with yellow tape at the centre of what used to be the dance floor and returning the unruly audience back to its seats. Eisenstein/Barrett’s Monsieur Deloup, who’s by now overstayed his welcome multiple times over, returns and together with the colossally hung over Officer Frank (Geoffrey Penar) slows down the denouement, but just like in Act 1 some good singing comes to the rescue, from all but particularly Ludwig and Rachel Krehm.
In conclusion, as an adaptation this Fledermaus is a mixed bag, but as an event of its own kind, and as a likely gateway drug for future opera audiences, it’s superb.
Last performance tonight — tickets here.