Friday, June 27, 2003

Die Fledermaus (Lyric Opera)

Poorly conceived 'DIE FLEDERMAUS' at Lyric Opera

In the 1860s the Parisian operettas were a tremendous vogue in Vienna. The central figure in this movement was Offenbach whose works delighted and provided escapist entertainment.

Offenbach was succeeded by Johann Strauss, the composer of the popular “Blue Danube” waltz. Strauss wrote fifteen operettas which included the incomparable ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS.’ Strauss' association with the dance band naturally resulted in his operettas containing the rhythms of the dance. In order for ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS.’ to be effective the singing, the acting and the dancing must all by joyous and proficient. Unfortunately, under the stiff direction of Jonathon Field, Lyric Opera Cleveland’s production, is proficient in none of these.

As with all operettas, ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ is an exaggeration of life. Gabriel von Eisenstein has been sentenced to prison for insulting an official. Before embarking on his sentence he attends a costume ball. He has lied to his wife about where he is going. A series of mistaken identifies including the wife, the parlor maid and numerous other characters leads to some delightful incidents. Well, should be delightful. In this production, poor acting, poorly executed dancing, and some moderately successful singing, are the rule.

One of the traditional problems with Lyric Operas productions has been the poor acoustics. This has been taken care of with the move to the wonderful Drury Theatre in the Cleveland Play House complex. Other problem have been the often poor acting, questionable casting and stilted staging of their productions. Unfortunately, as ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ proves, these conditions have not been altered.

The only real highlight of the show is a brief, but joyously delicious pas de deux danced with professional grace and spirit by Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, formerly of the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet Company. Too bad the whole evening could not have been their dancing. (If you’d like to see them in performance their company, Point of Departure will be performing at Cain Park on July 31.)

Kudos go to Glen Cortese who has done a fine job with the orchestra and Michael Grube whose set design is attractive and functional.

Risa Renee Harman sang and acted the role of the maid with delightful enthusiasm and has a fine singing voice. Christian Elser, as von Eisenstein, displayed nice vocal abilities but his characterization was unconvincing. Scott Guinn also has a nice singing voice, but he was both physically wrong for the role of Dr. Falke, and displayed shallow acting skills. Michael Bragg was totally unconvincing as the lawyer. Elizabeth Sutton’s portrayal of Ida was delightful. Leodigario B. del Rosario was difficult to understand and was unconvincing as Alfred, the wife’s suitor. Terese Cullen’s wife lacked acting texture.

Capsule judgement: A line in ‘DIE FLEDERMAUS’ states, “bribe only the very best critics.” Not even a bribe would have brought this weak production a positive review.”