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[whitespace] Bat Wings

Comic opera is a frothy charade of concealed identities and amorous pairings

By Scott MacClelland

THE OLDEST DEBATE in opera is: What's more important, the words or the music? For operas based on narrative stories, most good composers will tell you it's the words. That's because it makes their job much easier and raises the odds of better music.

That Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus is such an opera did not, however, prevent director Yefim Maizel from allowing the new Bay Shore Lyric Opera production to linger long in excessive spoken dialogue (Act 1) and gratuitous schtick (Act 3), marring an otherwise successful effort.

The triumphant second act proved the point: lasting longer than the other two, it seemed much shorter.

Fledermaus is frothy stuff at best--tipsy like the champagne which flows through its charades--but properly edited it can zip right along and deliver both laughs and fresh delight. Proper editing should not touch the music, however, which holds up more than its share of staying power.

The spoken dialogue, unless cut to the bare necessity of advancing the plot, can and does bog things down. For all the exceptional acting abilities of the cast, they are twice as good when they are singing. The contrived opening of Act 3--in the jail--had nothing to do with the story and took an inordinate time to demonstrate that the two characters, jailer and warden, were drunk: stupidly, idiotically and not laughably.

Aside from these directorial miscues, the other production values sustained the high standards achieved during Bay Shore's splendid La Cenerentola of last fall. The cast of singers delivered on that promise with, if anything, higher overall consistency of vocal polish. The sets found a new and imaginative depth in the small stage. The costumes were more opulent, vivid and stylish than ever. The dance sequences in Act 2 intensified festivities despite the limited space. (The run will alternate between Bay Shore's Capitola home and the larger Fox Theater in Redwood City.)

Fanning Old Flames

Of a piece, Act 2 of Fledermaus is where everything comes together. A party hosted by the young and bored Prince Orlofsky (Liliane Cromer) becomes the scene of entrapment engineered by Dr. Falke (Todd Donovan)--the "Bat" of the title--to avenge a public humiliation previously suffered at the hands of his friend, Gabriel von Eisenstein (Andrew Carter). Falke persuades Eisenstein to attend under a French pseudonym; Eisenstein's wife, Rosalinda (Jennifer der Torossian) to wear a mask; and their chambermaid, Adele (Alexandra Alisè) to pose as an aspiring actress. With a host of other attractive young ladies and gents, this quickly dissolves into a comedy of both concealed identities and amorous pairings. At last, the Eisensteins catch one another in illicit affairs, their public embarrassment gaining Falke his final revenge.

The prison warden, Frank (Emil Cristescu), like Eisenstein, has his own reason to attend the party under a false identity, only adding to the confusion. Additionally, the opera tenor, Alfred (Christopher Campbell), a paramour from Rosalinda's past, has resurfaced to fan the flames of old love.

Campbell delivers a full-bodied lyric tenor that soars with ease, leaving the ear--and for his good looks, the eye--wanting more. No less riveting is der Torossian, as versatile an actress as a singer, beneficially adding dramatic force to her coloratura and plumbing ever deeper into the mezzo range. Alisè's own coloratura sprinkles glitter over Adele's saucy soubrette. Cromer's Orlofsky set off not a few amusing vocal sarcasms, mirroring perfectly her studied aristocratic ennui.

As Eisenstein, Carter's solid vocal prowess never failed to serve a bewildering role that constantly shifts from one distraction to another. Cristescu is a finely focused comedic actor and singer, luckily still available for Bay Shore productions.

But let's not forget Strauss. Without an orchestra of this caliber, and the leadership of conductor Anthony Quartuccio, the composer's score, bursting with tunes, marches and dances, could have devolved into wallpaper. Instead, it was the glue that continually brought the libretto back into focus. Simply said, director Maizel owes conductor Quartuccio for his better Batsmanship.

Bay Shore Lyric Opera performs 'Die Fledermaus' Saturday, March 23, at 8pm and Sunday, March 24, at 3pm at the Capitola Theater for the Performing Arts, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. Tickets are $33-$43; call 831.462.3131.

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From the March 13-20, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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