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'Die Fledermaus' is 3 hours of non-stop fun

By Ken Keuffel Jr.
The Arizona Daily Star
October, 15 1998

When it comes to "Die Fledermaus," what's not to love?

Johann Strauss' beloved operetta overflows with instantly memorable tunes and lyrics, irrepressibly funny characters and colorful scenes of late 19th century Vienna. Its frivolity provides an escape from life's more mundane concerns - and a welcome contrast to opera, which tends to be more serious.

If Friday's performance is any indication, Arizona Opera is presenting an energetic, imaginatively staged "Fledermaus." Go see it before its Tucson run concludes today. Otherwise, you'll miss three hours of non-stop fun, not to mention the rumored opera debuts in Act II of a congressman and a local car dealer.

The production, which is sung in English, retains the clever rhyme of the original German-language libretto. The flashing surtitles are largely superfluous; each sung word, even when the words overlap, comes across with clarity.

"Die Fledermaus," revolves on the elaborate scheme of Dr. Falke (Ben Sorenson) to get even with Eisenstein (Benoit Boutet), a married womanizer, for abandoning him in a park after a costume party. Falke, who'd had too much to drink, woke up the next morning still dressed in his bat costume. The whole city now calls him "Dr. Bat."

Much of the action takes place at a party hosted by a hard-to-amuse Prince Orlofsky (Suzanne Du Plantis). It concludes at the jail of Frosch (Reynaldo Romo) and warden Frank (Douglas Nagel), both of whom capitalize on their inebriation to make Act III's beginning memorable for its slapstick humor.

Traditionally, "Die Fledermaus" thrives on ad-libbing of the most amusing variety.

At Orlofksy's bail, for instance, Eisenstein asks Frank if he's heard of Tucson Mayor George Miller. Frank, drawing a blank, says: "My work keeps me locked up."

Rosalinda (Pamela Hicks) wonders if her ex-lover Alfred (Douglas Wunsch) is out of his mind for making advances at her. Wunsch retorts: "A mind is something a tenor's permanently out of. Don't let it bother you."

The singing is consistently first-rate.

In Act II, for instance, Sorenson leads an expressive, wonderfully blended ensemble account of "Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein." Strauss was a supreme melodist; here, that gift has produced moving, emotionally laden music.

The women, including chambermaid Adele (Susan Wain), exhibit the kind of vocal power you'd expect from high-powered female opera singers. Lots of loud and exciting high notes at a tune's conclusion, in other words.

Alfred's constant vocalizing, with his natural phrasing and pleasing lightness, is convincing enough to make Rosalinda melt.

We're forever calling "Die Fledermaus" "light" or "flufty," forgetting that some of its music presents unexpected difficulties for singers and pit musicians alike.

While the cast's singers conquered its challenges, the same must be said of the pit, conducted by John Webber. Arizona Opera's musicians now comprise a solid, confident-sounding orchestra.

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Die Fledermaus (Synopsis)
Johann Strauss II (Bio)

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