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More Fun Than a Frat Party

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ A Toast to the Bubbly

By Jennifer DeBoer

Die Fledermaus

By Johann Strauss, Jr.

Libretto by Haffner and Genee

Boston Lyric Opera

Shubert Theatre

April 30, May 2, 6, 13 at 7:30 p.m.; May 4 and 11 at 3 p.m.

Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much from the Boston Lyric Opera. They had disappointed me on past occasions (I cringe remembering the Carmen bash in the fall) so I was more than a little skeptical when I bought my ticket to one of the smaller giants in the operatic arena, Johann Strass’s Die Fledermaus.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the presentation and the reception of the piece. The informal, self-deprecating, witty operetta spoke candidly to the diverse audience, which was willingly entertained. It communicated to them in a language they understand (English) about a subject they know well (drinking).

Feathery black masks were handed out to each audience member as they found their seats. At first glance, they were probably cheesy plastic souvenirs. Ultimately, however, they were only as ridiculous as the operetta itself and it set the tone for the audience involvement throughout the piece. When they began singing in English (with English subtitles of course), I recoiled. The name of the opera is German right? The slick libretto was convincing enough, so I let it slide until I could confirm that the original, better version by the same librettists who wrote Carmen was in German.

Strauss led the attack on my cynicism, backed by a wonderful pit and -- gasp -- a woman conductor, Beatrice Jona Affron. Each piece trips lightly over the stage and invites the audience to dance. Anguish, seduction, and patriotism all find their expression in three-steps of varying vitality while every simple melody invariably creeps into a rollicking waltz.

The saving factor for me was the attitude of the performers towards their roles. Not one of them took their parts seriously, a good thing since I had no intention of doing so either. The comedic juxtaposition of ardent music and trite aristocratic melodramas further emphasized the light-heartedness of the piece. They went so far as to poke fun at themselves; Orlofsky’s full name was hilarious and his song that encouraged the audience to get up and leave the theater struck the right chord with the spectators (who stayed where they were). Characters attempted to pass off as French and couldn’t even fool each other. Einstein even pulled Mr. Beethoven into the outrageous mix by interjecting a quick “O namenlose Freude!” at the recognition scene, though the Fidelio allusion evidently eluded most of the audience.

An appropriately selected cast lent itself well to each vocal part. Eisenstein was charming but musically thin, Rosalinda was full-bodied and passionate, and Orlofsky, who stole the show until Frank and Frosch came along, had us scanning our programs to determine the sex of the singer. It was Adele, however, played by Sarah Tannehill, who stole the show. With a quintessential, lyrical soprano voice, Adele made every scene bubble. Her character was one of the most humorous, but this did not hamper her ability to awe with sparkling vocal capers. She was no Joan Sutherland, but she and the other characters appeared to be having a good time.

The most convincing part of the opera was the drunkenness, or rather the gay frivolity, that emanated from the stage. There wasn’t a single scene which didn’t involve alcohol or antics resulting from its consumption. (Notice the chicken dance the police officers do in the first act if you think the pre-masquerade portion lacks said antics.) The most passionately sung number was “We toast champagne, the essence of the essence, the king of effervescence.” Need I say more?

The libretto, skillfully arranged in glib English rhymes, allowed room for the singers to add or ad lib supplementary humor. Who can resist an Alfredo who sings “La donna e mobile” in his jail cell and cites “Libiam! Libiam!” to intoxicate his lover? From the beginning, the audience was howling appropriately at the onstage antics which were more reminiscent of a Broadway musical comedy than a nineteenth century opera.

The absurdity increased until the third-act recognition scene when the cast was apparently given free rein of the comedic content. Frosch set the tone of the act by yelling -- drunkenly of course -- at the angels who were watching his every move and eating up every slurred word. He broke one of the second violins’ bows and told Frank that the vodka he was serving him was Poland Springs. The final straw that sent me rolling into the aisles was the obvious take-off from, of all things, Waynes World. Yes, Alfredo pulled the speak-for-a-short-time-in-another-language-and-wait-for-the-TV-screen-translator-to-catch-up bit, and it worked wonders.

Moral of the story: the Boston Lyric Opera is for the masses. It fills a musical void in a city without an actual opera house. Barely satiating avid operagoers, it serves to elevate the cultural awareness of the city as a whole by offering a comfortable, non-exclusive atmosphere and decent performances. I was dubious about the show, but when the BLO made no pretense to be serious opera, I found myself laughing uproariously with the rest of the crowd. I hate to say it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show.