Opera Review: Blame the champagne
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | January 29,2013
MONTREAL — Television and theater have no monopoly on frothy and hilarious comedy, with slapstick, double entendres and ribald humor.
“Die Fledermaus,” or “The Bat,” the world’s most popular operetta, by Johann Strauss II, has all that in spades — as well as glorious and memorable music. The Opéra de Montréal opened a hilarious, well-sung and imaginatively created production Saturday at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier that took the action to Montreal’s posh neighborhoods. Charmingly, it was performed in French and English — with super-titles in both languages — giving it an even more authentic feel. The plot, in the libretto by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée, is pretty silly, but it’s a perfect setup for all sorts of fun. Dr. Falke wants revenge for last year’s New Year’s Eve costume party, when Gabriel left him, drunk and passed out, on a park bench, still in his bat costume — a laughingstock for all to see.
At home, Gabriel is preparing to spend eight days in jail for insulting a judge. His wife, Rosaline, is holding off her lover, the singing teacher Alfred, until Gabriel leaves. Adele, the maid, receives a letter from her aunt inviting her to Prince Orlofsky’s party that night and promptly claims to her mistress that her aunt is dying and she needs the night off. Rosaline receives an invitation too, so is only too happy to acquiesce.
Gabriel, spirited off by Falke to said party, tells his wife he’s headed to jail. When the head jailer, Frank, arrives, he mistakes Alfred for Gabriel and carts him off. Now that the coast is clear, Rosaline and Adele — separately — sneak off to the party. And that’s just the first of the three acts.
Of course, Prince Orlofsky’s party is a masked ball, so anything can — and does — happen. When all is said and done, it can be blamed on the champagne.
Montreal’s production, though not perfect, was a hoot. Elegantly set in Art Deco by Richard Roberts, Oriol Tomas’ staging blended the comedy with elegance that, despite some overly silly moments, proved hilarious. Lavish party costumes by Angus Strathie, though mixed in periods, rounded out the comedy.
Conducting by Thomas Vernon, founding artistic director of Opera Pacifica Victoria, was effective but lacked effervescence. Still, the precision and expertise of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal delivered the rich score in all its brilliant colors.
The all-Canadian cast proved fine, particularly the women. Soprano Caroline Bleau, despite some minor pitch problems, had great presence and delivered some powerful moments as Rosaline. Soprano Marianne Lambert was brilliant and funny as the naughty Adele. Mezzo-soprano Emma Parkinson, too, had real presence in the “trouser role” of Prince Orlofsky.
Rich-voiced baritone Dominique Coté sang beautifully as Falke and was lots of fun. Tenor Marc Hervieux, who appeared at the Vermont International Opera Festival, Green Mountain Opera’s predecessor, sang well but lacked theatrical presence. Tenor Thomas Macleay sang with lyrical beauty as Alfred but also lacked comic presence.
A special treat was a rich and ribald performance, as the party’s entertainment, by soprano Chantale Nurse, joined by her Chippendale-like dancers.
Opéra de Montréal’s “Die Fledermaus” was simply great fun — set to some glorious music.
Opéra de Montréal
The Opéra de Montréal presents “Die Fledermaus,” by Johann Strauss II, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29, 31 and Feb. 2 at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal. The production is fully staged, with the Montreal Symphony conducted by Timothy Vernon, and sung in French and English with English and French super-titles. Tickets are $50-$150 Canadian (with discounts for ages 18-30); call 877-385-2222 or go online to www.operademontreal.com.