Fledermaus at the Bar Opera Five

Die Fledermaus-7
Michael Barrett (Eisenstein), Julie Ludwig (Adele), Rachel Krehm (Rosalinde) surrounded by the chorus.

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.

Die Fledermaus-2
Erin Lawson (Orlofsky), Michael Barrett (Eisenstein/Monsieur deLoup) and in the background, Pearle Harbour (Justin Miller), amid the chorus.


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.

What I wanted to say is

Prinz Orlofsky (Laura Tucker) gets close and personal with Adele (Ambur Braid) in Canadian Opera Company’s new Die Fledermaus, directed by Christopher Alden.  It opens tonight.

It’s not easy being handsome. No Sirree.

My profile of Laura is out today in Xtra! magazine and online.

The COC video. The photos (not nearly enough of them).

The Canadian Opera Company 2012/13 season highlights

The Canadian Opera Company 2012/13 season highlights

No baroque this year. (On the upside, no Gluck and no Puccini either.)

Psychoanalysis, stock market crash, decadence: Christopher Alden’s new production of Die Fledermaus. Laura Tucker as Prinz Orlofsky.

Peter Sellars’s Tristan und Isolde with Bill Viola’s video screens.

More dark Victoriana: David Alden’s ENO Lucia.

Christopher Alden’s La Clemenza, first shown at Chicago Opera Theatre. Sesto will be sung by Isabel Leonard, Wallis Giunta will be Annio.

Atom Egoyan will revive and ‘re-think’ his old COC Salome.

Robert Carsen returns with Dialogues des Carmelites (the 2004 La Scala production available on DVD), with mezzo Judith Forst as Madame de Croissy and Adrianne Pieczonka debuting the role as Madame Lidoine.

There’s also a Trovatore with Elena Manistina as Azucena. Here’s Stride la vampa from Liceu 2009:

Pieczonka’s Valhalla

Pieczonka’s Valhalla

The Post-led wander-around Pieczonka-Tucker red brick Victorian in the Annex…

The story

The picture gallery

edited to add:

Finally a  good picture of Laura Tucker, who will–STOP THE PRESSES–sing Orlofsky at the COC in a new production of Die Fledermaus. More on the PieczTucker (Tuczonka?) summer plans at the Indian River Festival 2011 blog.

Prinz Orlofsky, how do you do that thing you do

Prinz Orlofsky, how do you do that thing you do

What makes a rocking Prinz Orlofsky? Let’s give this issue our undivided attention.

Here’s Die Fass.

Timbre: the right shade throughout, that is, on the dark side. The little spikes/screams: blend well, don’t interrupt the flow. Tempo: comes close to too fast, some wording divides syllables into beats (note the en-nuy-iert which is almost staccato). Stage movement: excellent. Masculinity: excellent. The slight dust of femininity necessary: yes. The oddball factor: yes, and done well. Chalk the last four under Good Acting. Diction: native language so goes without saying. I don’t remember how her Russian accent was in the spoken part, I need to get hold of that DVD again. (It’s the legendary Carlos Kleiber-Otto Schenk production) No other way to put it but: Hotness: through the roof.

Now let’s look at Troyanos.

Timbre: Not too sure about this one… it sounds too sopranic to me. Also at the beginning there are bits that sound very nasal. The spikes: Belong a little too much. The whole thing sounds spike-high. Stage movement: very little. The masculinity-femininity ratio: excellent. The oddness: some. Diction: good fake Russian in the dialogue. How was her German in the aria, German-speakers? Hotness: yes.

Here’s Malena Ernman as Orlofsky. Vodka is out, madeira is in:

Timbre: Hmm. On average, good. But the lowest notes are unlovely, and higher up there are moments of the Dame Edna colour. Tempo: in comparison to Fassbaender’s — noticeably slower, which is to my liking (maybe I want Orlofsky’s aria to last a looooong time, all right?). Stage movement: excellent. Masculinity: save for the hands, complete. The femininity spice: none. And herein the problem. Prinz Orlofsky is not about the best male impersonation. There needs to be a slight remainder somewhere that signals, this is a woman being very masculine while singing this oddball aria. You can argue that the mezzo range provides enough signaling that way. I don’t think that’s enough. Anyway, I’m still trying to explain it to myself why a perfect male impersonator Orlofsky (or any other trouser  role, for that matter) isn’t what the role is about. Maybe the convincing male makes the situation more neatly hetero? I don’t know. The oddness: excellent. Diction: excellent Russian undercurrent in the spoken dialogue. Hotness: um… no.  Too weirded out to be attracted. Extra: the ornamentation! In her round two, Ernman does some very neat fioritura. Gorgeous, and unexpected.

Two other versions which are waaay out to lunch: ROH’s ’84 Fledermaus with the Orlofsky wrong in just about every possible way; Agnes Baltsa in Theater an der Wien in ’99: tsk tsk tsk.

Now, I have one joker left in this game, but you can’t see it because it’s not on YouTube. I bought this Met Opera Gala 1991 DVD just so I could see Anne Sofe von Otter as Prinz Orlofsky, even if only in Act II and as part of a Gala and not in a regular performance. These Met galas are a strange business. ASvO’s Prinz was the only person on stage under 65 (she was in her mid-30s) but stood out in countless other ways. The timbre was consistent and confident, on the lighter side but not exceedingly so, the diction perfect as usual, the acting mischievous. Gender play was… well, imagine this hybrid: a Scandinavian slalom skier and a young Boris Becker. Then imagine that creature is a woman. Whatever languid femininity ASvO’s manner brought to the role (there’s some of that), the height, the colossal handsomeness of the woman tipped Orlofsky permanently to the masculine side. But you have to see the DVD to understand. There’s exactly 11 seconds of her Orlofsky here, starting at 1:01.

But where was I? Yes. Who is the ultimate Orlofsky, then? The polls are open. I’m torn between von Hotter and FassGender-Bender.

Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein,
Man lebt bei mir recht fein,
Man unterhält sich, wie man mag
Oft bis zum hellen Tag.
Zwar langweil' ich mich stets dabei,
Was man auch treibt und spricht;
Indes, was mir als Wirt steht frei,
Duld' ich bei Gästen nicht!
Und sehe ich, es ennuyiert
Sich jemand hier bei mir,
So pack' ich ihn ganz ungeniert,
Werf' ihn hinaus zur Tür.
Und fragen Sie, ich bitte
Warum ich das denn tu'?
'S ist mal bei mir so Sitte,
Chacun à son gout! 	

Wenn ich mit andern sitz' beim Wein
Und Flasch' um Flasche leer',
Muss jeder mit mir durstig sein,
Sonst werde grob ich sehr.
Und schenke Glas um Glas ich ein,
Duld' ich nicht Widerspruch;
Nicht leiden kann ich's wenn sie schrein:
Ich will nicht, hab' genug!
Wer mir beim Trinken nicht pariert,
Sich zieret wie ein Tropf,
Dem werfe ich ganz ungeniert,
Die Flasche an den Kopf.
Und fragen Sie, ich bitte,
Warum ich das denn tu'?
'S ist mal bei mir so Sitte
Chacun à son goût!