Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: 'Die Fledermaus'

Virginia Opera
Gary Thor Wedow conducting
Nov. 23, Richmond CenterStage

“Die Fledermaus,” the operetta by Johann Strauss II, began its long life as a satirical celebration of the flirtatious, wine-soaked, waltz-timed frivolity of late 19th-century Habsburg Vienna. That world and its manners and mores are so long-gone that what was satire now comes across as situation comedy.

Virginia Opera’s current production of “Fledermaus,” directed by Dorothy Danner and designed by Erhard Rom, looks elegantly old-worldly, but plays out like the broadest kind of American sit-com, in which characters move frenetically, exclaim constantly and bludgeon punchlines. The cognitive dissonance could be compounded by the production’s use of a dated English translation, in quasi-Victorian rhyme; but the cast doesn’t dwell too much on diction, and the show’s non-stop high jinks distract the audience from the captions projected above the stage.

Go with the flow – or should that be the fizz? – and you get three hours of energetic, mildly risqué, belly-laughable fun.

A cast of young singers, paced by Christopher Burchett (Falke), Sarah Jane McMahon (Adele), Ryan MacPherson (Alfred) and Abigail Nims (Orlofsky), and garnished with some gifted character singer-actors, notably Jake Gardner (Frank), revel in their roles and display some impressive vocal technique – McMahon’s coloratura is as serious as its application is funny.

Grant Neale, as the drunken jailer Frosch, steals the show in Act 3 with his slow-motion contortions and deceptively sly comic turns. (A bit of his slyness would have enhanced several other characterizations.)

The chorus and dancers make a musical and visual feast of the Act 2 ball scene and the Act 3 finale.

Emily Pulley (Rosalinde) and Philip Cutlip (Eisenstein) were a bit effortful, both in voice and comic acting, in the first of three Richmond performances.

The real stars of this show turned out to be the orchestra, drawn from Hampton Roads’ Virginia Symphony, and Gary Thor Wedow, a journeyman theatrical conductor who obtains a sparkling, rhythmically crisp orchestral sound (interestingly, without using a baton). What comes out of the pit is so extroverted and tonally rich that the band sounds twice its size, and so idiomatically Viennese that you’d swear the musicians floated in on the blue Danube.

Virginia Opera’s production of “Die Fledermaus” repeats at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $25-$114. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX). The run closes with performances at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 and 2 p.m. Dec. 2 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax. Tickets: $25-$114. Details: (888) 945-2468 (;