A month or so ago in this space you heard me rave about the production of Die Fledermaus by Opera San José. I won’t take back a word of that review, but I have to tell you about a quite different but equally exciting performance that I went to December 9, 2012 at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. As predicted by Debra Lambert, Chair Musical Arts Department at NDNU, “It will be much less elaborate than the OSJ show [which I also saw] — but probably much more fun!”
Let’s start with the “less elaborate” – which begins before we even enter the theater. California Theatre, venue for OSJ, is a beautiful century-old-newly-restored building with an elaborate marquee and a big outer lobby with three enclosed and miked ticket windows. Traube Center, one of several theater venues on the NDNU campus, is an unassuming rectangular building with a couple of closed unmarked doors facing a small parking lot; a friendly student told us which one would open eventually to admit us directly into the theater; the box-office consisted of a narrow table with two students behind it right beside the door. The actual theater in San José has 1100 seats, an enormous stage, and a large orchestra pit in between; even from row E, you feel remote from the stage. Yesterday there were less than a hundred seats and a very shallow stage; I was in row A, center, and felt that I was really part of the action.
As for “much more fun”, I’d rather say, “even more fun,” since I remember how much fun it was seeing the OSJ performances. Still, I have to admit, I laughed longer and louder yesterday than I can recall doing for many a moon. Both the singing and the dialog were in English, using a saucy translation by Marcie Stapp. And the diction of all of the singers was so good that only in retrospect did I realize that there were no supertitles!
As is usually the case when I see Die Fledermaus, the first act trio sung by the Eisensteins and their housemaid was hilarious.
For the finale of Act I, Adele and Alfredo (Eric Morris), clad in Eisenstein’s dressing gown, are having a pleasant tête-à-tête in the Eisensteins’ home when Frank (James McGoff), superintendent of the city jail, arrives to personally escort Herr Eisenstein to jail to begin his sentence. Not knowing the Eisensteins personally, Frank naturally assumes that the domestic-seeming couple are husband and wife – wishing to avoid a scandal they do not disabuse him even though it means Alfredo must spend a night in jail. They gain a brief delay by inviting Frank to join their party and have a glass of wine, but Frank soon returns to business and insists they leave.
Alfredo pleads with Frank for a brief reprieve to give his “wife” a good-bye kiss. Frank readily agrees, and here the two productions differ markedly. In San Jose, as in all other productions I’ve seen, Rosalinde showed only a token resistance as Alfredo delivered a lengthy bend-her-over-backwards-almost-to-the floor kiss, but here she successfully fought him off without even a peck on the cheek. This might have been because the powers-that-be felt that their student-actors should be shielded from such strong sensuality – but I suspect it was because said student-actors persuaded Director Yefim Maizel that it was really funnier if the poor Italian tenor was totally frustrated. Incidentally, whether it’s Eric Morris’ natural state or some clever make-up artist, can you imagine a more realistic-looking caricature of an Italian tenor?
I was very impressed with the staging. Given a small shallow stage area, limited off-stage space (I suspect), and limited resources, how do you convey the idea of three very different settings for the three acts? To start with, about 4 feet at the rear of the stage was marked off by a heavy drape with three triangular openings; it remained in place for all three acts. Act I takes place in the living room of the Eisensteins. A few pieces of period furniture are on stage and the drape openings are covered with light-weight opaque curtains, thus giving the impression that we are in a cozy living room (see images 3 or 4 above). All entrances and exits are through the side wings, so the other side of the drape is left entirely to our imagination – I liked to think of it as a pleasant garden.
Act II takes place in the spacious ballroom of the villa which has been rented by Prince Orlofsky (Evan Bailey Hunt). The drape openings are now uncovered revealing a long hallway which presumably connects with other rooms in the villa. Not only is the ballroom full of guests part of the time, but guests and servants are constantly entering and exiting through the drape openings, frequently at break-neck speed. The effect of all this motion is to increase a feeling of spaciousness and also of the size of the party.
Act III is in the warden’s office in the jail. Bars over all the drape openings immediately evoke a claustrophobic feeling appropriate to a jail, and the hall at the back now leads to the front door in one direction and to the jail cells in the other. All three settings achieved with such simplicity and such effectiveness.
It’s too late to see another performance of Die Fledermaus, but I plan to go back to the NDNU Musical and Vocal Arts program in March for The Sound of Music and again in April for a show with the provocative title Opera Rocks.
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on December 28, 2012.