Die Fledermaus in Chicago

The production of Die Fledermaus is owned by the San
Francisco Opera and received its first Chicago viewing in this series of
performances starting in December and lasting until the latter part of January.
The two female leads, Rosalinde von Eisenstein and her maid Adele, were sung by
Juliane Banse and Daniela Fally respectively, the former making her American
operatic debut and the latter her American stage debut. Tenor Michael Spyres,
whose role of Alfred sings the opening number of the score, made his Chicago
Lyric Opera debut in this production. Baritone Adrian Erˆd likewise sang for
the first time in this house as Dr. Falke, the friend of Gabriel von
Eisenstein, husband of Rosalinde. Bo Skovhus reprised the role of Gabriel which
he had sung here several years earlier. David Cangelosi portrayed his lawyer
Dr. Blind and Andrew Shore was Frank, the prison warden. Yet a final
significant role debut was the Prince Orlovsky sung by Emily Fons. The Lyric
Opera Orchestra was conducted by Ward Stare.

Act1_DanRest1.gifDaniela Fally as Adele and Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein. Act 1

During the overture a facsimile of a Fledermaus audience-program
from an 1874 performance of the opera at the Theater an der Wien was projected
onto a screen covering the stage. The varied and distinct melodic parts that
make up the overture were held together nicely under Mr. Stare’s direction.
At the start of Act One the first two characters, both distracted by personal
concerns, pursue their ambitions with vocal determination until their paths
invariably cross. Alfred, the former admirer of Rosalinde von Eisenstein, sings
an ardently loud serenade to honor the now married woman of the house. At the
same time, the chambermaid Adele has received a note from her sister Ida,
member of the corps du ballet, including an invitation to “ein grand
Souper” [“exclusive late-night reception”] for which Adele must secure
time off. These separate aspirations from the start of the musical drama run
predictably awry and contribute with delightful symmetry to the complications
of not only the first but also the following two acts. Mr. Spyres’s Alfred is
appropriately passionate in his vocalism, to the extent that his eager devotion
leans cleverly on the edge of several pitches in rapturous expression. Because
his singing continues to hinder the maid Adele’s concentration, she orders
Alfred from the premises but not before Rosalinde recognizes the voice of her
former suitor. The ensuing dialogue as depicted by Ms. Banse and Ms. Nally, in
which Adele pleads in vain for time to visit her “arme Tante” [“poor
aunt”], is well acted and reflects their social differences by means of
cleverly articulated German. After Alfred returns briefly to seek a hearing
from Rosalinde, the final conflict is introduced. Gabriel arrives from court
with his lawyer Dr. Blind. In the trio between husband, wife, and lawyer
Gabriel’s impending prison sentence is approached with mutual accusations of
guilt. Each of the principal singers matched well the brisk tempos encouraged
by Mr. Stare, as each participated in the physical histrionics of ejecting Dr.
Blind. His place is taken almost immediately by the entrance of Dr. Falke, an
old friend of Gabriel who tenders an invitation to the very souper for
which Adele has attempted to secure time away. In the role of Falke Mr. Erˆd
is ideally cast, his lyrical line projecting effortlessly and again showing an
idiomatic sense of the text both spoken and sung. He convinces Gabriel easily
to accept the invitation to Orlovsky’s souper and effectively to commence his prison sentence on the following morning. After
his transformation into evening clothes and into a much more cheerful mood,
Gabriel departs for the souper under the pretext of beginning his
imprisonment. Ms. Banse assumes an appropriate state of confusion as she grants
Adele the desired free evening, bids farewell to her husband, and faces again
the presence of an importunate Alfred. Mr. Spyres’s toast to love [“Trinke
Liebchen, trinke schnell” (“Drink, my darling, drink quickly”)] –
performed with gusto and scrupulous diction – attempts to reverse the
despondent mood of Rosalinde. When Frank the warden arrives to escort Gabriel
to jail, the absence of her true husband leaves Rosalinde no choice but to
proclaim that her present suitor “Kann nur allein der Gatte sein” [“can
be none other than my husband”]. As such, he is escorted to jail in
Gabriel’s stead.

The sentiment expressed by Alfred in his recurring lyrics at the close of
the first act, “Gl¸cklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ‰ndern
ist” [“Happy the one who forgets what cannot in any case be changed”]
seems to haunt the atmosphere of the souper in Act Two. To be sure,
Orlovsky’s dictum, that every guest must engage in pleasure or be cast out
from the festivity, contributes to the frenzied amusement. In this role Ms.
Fons used her extensive range remarkably by combining dramatic top notes with
an extended lower register in both dialogue and sung passages. After
Gabriel’s amusing exchange with the Prince, he recognizes Adele wearing one
of his wife’s evening gowns. In response to her employer’s confrontation
Adele’s self-defense is delightfully expressed in the laughing song “Mein
Herr Marquis.” In this showpiece Fally showed herself to be the equal of the
challenging vocal line, as she touched on high pitches and skittered through
rapid passages as skillfully as her physical gestures during dance movements
taken together with the male chorus. Additional guests arrive in disguise at
Orlovsky’s fÍte, among these the warden Frank and Rosalinde assuming the
identity of a Hungarian countess who is given the privilege of
“Maskenfreiheit” [“right to wear a mask”] to protect her identity.
After an amusing exchange with Skovhus, in which he loses his watch in
attempting to seduce her, Banse sings the Hungarian cz·rd·s to
defend the nationality of her assumed character. Banse’s forte
emphases and determined expression convince the others to accept her
authenticity. Equally impressive is Falke’s encouragement for all to join in
friendship, “Br¸derlein und Schwesterlein,” [“Brother dear and sister
dear”]. Here Erˆd sang with excellent legato, carefully placed
rubato on the title words, and an idiomatic sense of textual emphasis.
The following ballets enliven the scene of the party until Gabriel leaves in
haste to proceed to the jail.

In Act Three the expected comedy of the jail scene of Die
is indeed featured, yet the humor remained tastefully above the
level of burlesque. Frank returns to assume his post as warden, while the
effect of champagne hinders his full concentration. Adele’s aria, “Spiel’
ich die Unschuld vom Lande” [“If I play the naÔve maid from the
country”], is sung touchingly by Fally in the reprise of which the soprano
added well-chosen embellishments. The progressive unmasking of characters and
their admissions of assumed identity leads naturally to a balanced ending yet
leaves open the likely repeat of such an evening. In this respect, Lyric Opera
of Chicago has captured the atmosphere of Strauss’s Vienna with a cast of
singers and actors that make it come to life.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for audio commentary courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

image_description=Michael Spyres as Alfred, Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein and Juliane Banse as Rosalinde. Act 3. [Photo by Dan Rest]
product_title=Die Fledermaus in Chicago
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Michael Spyres as Alfred, Bo Skovhus as Eisenstein and Juliane Banse as Rosalinde. Act 3

Photos by Dan Rest