Review: Die Fledermaus (Canadian Opera Company)

Toronto audiences have more opportunity to discover the Canadian Opera Company with their latest exciting production of Die Fledermaus

Not since Robert LePage flooded the orchestra pit restaging Nightingale at the COC have I heard such a buzz about a new production as I have about Christopher Alden’s new Die Fledermaus. It’s not difficult to see the similarities. Of course LePage is rather in a class by himself when it comes to creating a landscape, but Alden’s Fledermaus has a freshness to it, full of whimsy and wit. Both productions offer a sensual theatrical experience even apart from the music, and both have an undeniable broad appeal.

The standouts of this production for me were two of the character players, soprano Ambur Braid (of COC’s Ensemble Studio) as Adele, imbuing the classic Mein Herr Marquis with a deeply sardonic note and baritone Peter Barrett (also an Ensemble Studio alumnus) as Dr. Falke. Braid has been well-hailed as a rising star of opera, with a voice on the darker end of the soprano range showcased to great effect here as Adele. Barrett’s baritone is nimble and rich, with more character than many, and his movement is brilliant as the eponymous bat – rarely have I seen a more appropriate combination of crafts for a single role.

Tamara Wilson as Rosalinde was wonderful, indeed, though I expected her to be. I’m not certain she’s yet got all the voice she will yet have at only 30, but she’s got such flexibility and bell-like clarity in the higher ranges that I’m a bit surprised she’s in this and not Il Trovatore (as Verdi is so well-favored by her style). Nevertheless, she’s marvelous.

I was surprised not to feel the same way about Michael Schade. I understand that he’s the major-stage veteran of the two, and still, I had a lot of difficulty warming to him. Technically he was fine, but his performance felt rote – or perhaps just underrehearsed, as I watched him stumble around the stage, stepping on Wilson’s clothes and looking a bit as though he couldn’t find his luggage. In a piece as crisply blocked and relying so substantially on everyone’s comic timing, it was all quite regrettable.

Alden’s production here is full of gender-bending, drag, and camp – all things I especially enjoy, even if “strip opera” is not a game I had previously seen played. The COC Chorus, as a group, are mostly peeled out of their clothes and attired by costume designer Constance Hoffman in playful drag and burlesque inspired costumes. Given an opportunity to camp it up, the chorus seems well up to the job, and they remain on stage for nearly all of acts 2 and 3, giving us plenty of time to admire their various… accoutrements, individually.

I should take a moment to appreciate both Hoffman and whichever member of the chorus was the portly, well-furred gentleman dressed in nothing but boxer shorts, a small vest, and a fan. The visual reminder that being good-natured and game is all it takes to look great even in a costume that could fit in a sandwich bag was marvelous, and I am grateful.

Overall, what’s not to enjoy? Great voices, great visuals, and a marvelous performance space. Have a glass of champagne at the interval, why don’t you?

Details

Die Fledermaus plays at the Four Seasons Center (145 Queen St W) through 3 November.
– Performances are as follows: Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m; Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m; Fri. Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m; Oct. 14 at 2 p.m; Wed. Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m; Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m; Tues. Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m; Thurs. Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m; Nov. 3, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
– Tickets range in price from $28 to $325
– Tickets can be purchased online at coc.ca, or by calling 416-363-8231

2 thoughts on “Review: Die Fledermaus (Canadian Opera Company)”

  1. Hello,
    Nothing personal but you have very poor taste – probably luck of music education or not listening and watching operas enough.
    Read Arthutr Kaptanis review for National Post:
    http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/10/09/opera-review-you-cant-suck-the-fun-out-of-die-fledermaus/#
    with only one edit: I’d rather call article “You can suck the fun out of Die Fledermaus”. At least he tried pointing in a right direction but very gently (hope he is not on payroll). Alden and his colleagues could quite suck the fun out of the world’s most popular operetta. Laura Tucker as Prince Orlofsky? Give me a break! Or remove orchestra to hear her screeching and whole dissonance.
    I can go on but see it pointless because our COC sucks big time again.
    Fortunately we still manage get some good franchise – see Il Travatore! And watch more opera DVDs for a change!

    Svitlana Ushak

  2. Hi Svitlana,

    I can’t speak to Bear’s taste, but I do think it should be noted that MoT’s mission is to provide reviews which are themselves accessible to laypeople.

    With that in mind, while you’re absolutely right that there are interesting backstage dynamics in play (indeed, half the fun of opera is following the production-end politics!), we’re really more concerned with whether or not the show itself is worthy of attention, especially to an audience of people who may not necessarily be operagoers by nature.

    Between Charpo, the Slotkin Letter, a good dozen or so local blogs and columnists in the Globe and Post, there are already a lot of resources available for people who want to discuss the higher and finer aspects of operatic performance and production. And while it’s absolutely a worthwhile thing to discuss, that isn’t usually the goal of an MoT review.

    With that in mind, I think Bear’s done an excellent job here: ze clearly enjoyed the performance, and Bear communicates that enthusiasm to the audience in an accessible way which entices people to get off the couch and buy tickets. (And I would know! Ze basically sold my parents on buying a set themselves.)

    I am, however, disappointed to hear that you disliked the performance, and hope that you’ll find future productions better suited to your expectations and taste.

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