Strauss’ tale of love and bubbly elixir

By Mary Chan

Don’t take Calgary Opera’s latest offering, Johann Strauss’ operetta Die Fledermaus too seriously. Yes, it may contain betrayal, flirtation, revenge, and passion, but in Act II of this entertaining production, the cast also sings a tribute to, of all things, champagne.

Die Fledermaus (or The Revenge of the Bat) is in English and includes spoken dialogue (though there are still opera titles). It revolves around Rosalinda and Gabriel von Eisenstein, a married couple in Vienna. Dr. Falke, an old friend of Gabriel’s, returns to Vienna to invite him to a ball. In reality, Falke plans to exact his revenge on Gabriel, who once played a cruel trick on him after a costume ball several years earlier. Throw in some staples of light farce (an Italian lover, a bitter parlourmaid, mistaken identities), and suddenly things look as familiar as an episode of Frasier.

Strauss’ music was pleasant and light, and the singers generally acquitted themselves well. Especially notable was soprano Angela Turner Wilson as the parlourmaid Adele, who had two standout solos. Wilson also proved to be a sharp comedienne with a good sense of timing, and received the best response of the night. However, Michel Corbeil, who played the stereotypical Italian lover Alfred to an extreme, was trying.

The set evoked late 1800s Vienna without being showy and the lighting changes were subtle. The entire cast and orchestra seemed to have fun with the performance, playing up the comedy, even if some of the jokes were utterly predictable ("You can always tell what a man is planning by the clothes he wears," Rosalinda says right before Alfred appears wearing a dressing gown).

The operetta contained some obvious modernizations, including the phrase "What’s up?" and a reference to the British television show Upstairs, Downstairs. The most blatant and political tongue-in-cheek reference, however, was aimed at Bill 11 and private "correctional facilities," when the jailer riffed on the problems with Vienna’s penal system. "I know how to solve the problem!" he exclaims. "We’ll have a two-tier prison system!" Based on the laughter and thunderous applause the five-minute monologue received, Mr. Klein should not plan to attend the opera any time soon.

But the best in-jokes were the ones about opera, including one where the jailer, upon hearing a line sung in Welsh, goes to the front of the stage to look up at the opera titles. Alfred also contributes by singing from popular operas like La Traviata. It is this self-awareness and self-mockery that keeps Die Fledermaus from descending too far into melodrama. By keeping a light, knowing tone, the performance remains as bubbly as the elixir that figures so prominently in the story.

Die Fledermaus plays until March 31.

Leave a comment