Laura Albino (Rosalinda) and Adam Luther (Eisenstein)
Toronto Operetta Theatre bid farewell to 2010 and rang in the New Year with one of the best operettas in the repertoire: Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr. Subject to the usual constraints that lack of funds brings, TOT does a rousing job and provides both vocal pleasure and lots of laughs.
Die Fledermaus is a “revenge” comedy that starts in an upper-crust residence in Vienna, continues in the posh ballroom of a Russian prince’s villa and ends in a state prison.
Things are in a bit of an uproar at the Eisenstein house. Husband Gabriel (Adam Luther) is supposed to go to jail; his wife Rosalinda (Laura Albino) is courted by an opera tenor and a lawyer friend drops in while the lovely maid Adele (Lucia Cesaroni) wants to go to a ball. The jailer arrives to discover Alfred the opera tenor (Keith Klassen) wearing Eisenstein’s dressing gown and courting Eisenstein’s wife. Alfred goes to jail pretending to be Eisenstein in order to protect the lady’s honour. That’s what you call a gentleman! Next act, please.
The ball is at the posh villa of Prince Orlovsky (Gregory Finney) and the guests start arriving. The real Eisenstein has not gone to jail and shows up at the party disguised as a French noble. His wife Rosalinda arrives disguised as a Hungarian; the maid Adele comes pretending to be an actress; the prison warden (Mark Petracchi) comes disguised as a Frenchman and in the end you don’t know who is who and you don’t care because you are having fun.
The elaborate joke, for those who care, is set up by Eisenstein’s lawyer friend Falke (Andrew Rethazi) to get even with Eisenstein over a joke that was played on him.
Those of us who do not care too much about the plot details have better things to do. We listen to the music and the singing which happen to be some of the best in the genre. Strauss put together lively arias, ensemble pieces and, of course, waltzes to keep you humming and tapping your feet until your soles wear off.
Soprano Laura Albino makes a first-rate Rosalinda. She is pretty, poised and can sing delightfully. She is the best part of the evening. Keith Klassen as the opera tenor has to sing bits of arias from half a dozen operas and he is put under considerable strain. It is no easy task to go from “La done e mobile” to “Che gelida manina” and he is not always successful but it is a tough role and he does get the laughs and most of the notes.
Tenor Adam Luther is good as Eisenstein but he too is not without his vocal limitations. The same can be said of Andrew Rethazi as Dr. Falke and Petracchi as Frank, the prison warden.
Some of the best comedy was provided by Finney and Guillermo Silva-Marin. Finney played the “bored” Prince Orlovsky and elicited laughter with ease. Silva-Marin, the General Director of TOT had a great time over-acting as Frosch the jailer and the fun was shared by the audience.
Die Fledermaus provides great opportunities for current humour. Silva-Marin who directs the production has provided additional dialogue and humour. He includes jokes about Martha Stewart, the recent G20 meeting in Toronto, Conrad Black and a host of references to current events. His free-wheeling approach to the work is quite appropriate. Operetta is supposed to be funny and easily understood and he succeeds in making it so.
The fifteen-member orchestra under Derek Bate sounded much bigger than its numerical strength would indicate and the chorus was very good.
TOT has severe fiscal limitations which appear most blatantly in its choice of venue and sets. It would be nice to see operetta produced at the Elgin/Winter Garden or even at the Bluma Appel Theatre next door. The Jane Mallett Theatre is small and, at best, functional. The sets are barely adequate to suggest the scenes of the operetta. You are carried by the music and the signing but it would be even better if we could enjoy posher sets.
The women’s dresses designed by Edward Kotanen and rented from Malabar were beautiful and the men’s tuxedos were fine.
TOT’s next production will be Luisa Fernanda by Moreno Torroba beginning March 9, 2011. You may have been to every operetta production in Canada and still not have seen this one. It has never been produced in Canada – yet.
Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr. opened on December 28, 2010 and will run until January 9, 2011 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: (416) 922-2912. www.torontooperetta.com