I’ll take mine mit schlag. The Bay Area’s venerable Lamplighters have departed from the usual Gilbert and Sullivan fare to serve up Johann Strauss II’s delectable Viennese concoction, “Die Fledermaus,” in a production that often is as fizzy as the champagne it celebrates. And when it goes flat, mostly in the third act, there are still enough bubbles in the glass to buoy you up until the end.
Strauss’ tale of fin de siècle decadence and (mild) debauchery among Vienna’s upper (and not-so-upper) classes comes through loud and clear and quite amusing, thanks to a splendid new translation by David Scott Marley. Having recently suffered through (via radio broadcast) the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of the same work with its long stretches of dialogue and not-so-funny jokes, I doubly appreciated Marley’s wit, economy and way with words.
Jennifer Ashworth is the standout in a capable cast as Rosalinde von Eisenstein, a former operetta chorus girl now married to a respectable banker and juggling return visits from her former lover, a tenor with an irresistible high A. Possibly the best Rosalinde I’ve ever seen, Ashworth makes the character a human being rather than a caricature and sings her beautifully. Her rendition of the Act II “Czardas” is quite funny, another departure from traditional productions, and makes her very human. Kudos to director Barbara Heroux for bringing out the nuances in a role she, herself, has sung more than once.
Next in line for praise is Maya Kherani as Rosalind’s irrepressible chambermaid, Adele, who goes to a ball in her employer’s dress and walks away with a Russian prince. Kherani had a few modulation problems early on and forgot the second verse of the famous “Laughing Song” but, by her big Act III “Audition Song” recovered to own the role. Her royal rescuer from the drudgery of dusting and sweeping, the perennially bored Prince Orlovsky — a traditional pants role — is taken by Anna Yelizarova, a real Russian. (All the female principal roles have been double cast throughout the run).
The men did not fare quite as well. Martin Lewis, the only Equity member in the bunch, was a weak Eisenstein, his voice not up to the challenge and his acting more wimp than lecherous husband out on the town. The psychiatrist who has cooked up the whole scheme to get everybody to a posh party in disguise and watch the chips fall, as payback for a prank played on him by Eisenstein some years before, was uncommonly well acted by William Neely but not as well sung. Mark Kratz managed the multi-aria task of the heroine’s former lover ably, but hammed it up shamelessly. Samuel Rabinowitz was excellent as the prison warden Frank, as was Bruce Hoard as his assistant, neither of them indulging in the excessive shtick that often can make the Act III jail scene seem endless.
The entire production benefitted greatly by the music direction of the distinguished conductor George Cleve, and the orchestra never sounded so good, especially in the showpiece overture. The Lamplighters chorus was simply superb, especially dressed in Judy Jackson MacIlvaine’s sumptuous period costumes and waltzing to Tom Segal’s choreography. The sets, by Lois Romberg, were serviceable (except for a malfunctioning door in Act I) with charming touches of Klimt design in the first two acts. The jail was, well, a jail.
The production will be touring around the Bay Area throughout the next month and, I am sure, some of the opening night kinks, both vocal and mechanical, will be ironed out. And, as in the best champagne, the bubbles will float to the top.