Maryland Opera Studio revels in the ridiculous with Strauss’s oft-performed comic opera Die Fledermaus. Director Nick Olcott exploits its absurdities to the hilt. He also translated the spoken dialogue into English, though all songs are still sung in German with surtitles. Johann Strauss II wrote the music with a libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée. The modern language with the traditional songs didn’t always seem natural, but it definitely made for more laughs.
As conductor Edward Maclary took up his baton for the famous overture with the University of Maryland Studio Orchestra, Olcott also chose to dramatize the back-story of how the character Falke became known as “The bat.” He got drunk at a costume party and fell asleep in the streets dressed as one. The opera is his revenge on his friend for the trick.
The main action takes place at Prince Orlofky’s party where the whole company ends up – mostly disguised as someone else. The set by Paige Hathaway and costumes by Kelsey Hunt are decadent period confections of satins and beads against a detailed and rich backdrop. The lighting by Rob Denton drenches everything in golden period lighting. The cabaret atmosphere of the party also features dances with choreography by Alcine Wiltz and an onstage pianist who accompanies opera star Dominic Cossa, who is now a Professor of Music at the school for one special number.
The atmosphere cannot outshine the singers. Maryland Opera Studio is the performance ensemble of the Masters of Music program at the University of Maryland School of Music. They have a dedicated following in the area and many graduates have gone onto international careers.
Madeline Cain (Rosalinde) has a powerful and mature soprano that particularly shines on “Sounds from home” during which she pretends to be a Hungarian countess to trick her husband, the faithless Gabriel von Eisenstein (Alec Donaldson). He sounds great on his solos in “Oh dear, oh dear, how sorry I am,” but it is his duet with baritone Keith Browning (Falke) that is the highlight for them both, “Come with me to the souper.” Browning has a fine stage presence as the schemer behind all of this.
Katie Baughman (Adele) plays a maid disguised as an actress. She has a rocking soprano, particularly on her aria “My Lord Marquis,” sometimes called the laughing song for it’s multi-octave laughter. James Krabbendam (Frank) rocks his mustache and has a resonant baritone as her love and a prison guard dressed as a French chevalier.
Four actors switch places on alternate nights, so each had to learn two vocal parts. Katherine Ann Brand (Prince Orlofsky) is hilarious in the trouser role of the perpetually bored aristocrat and impressive on her aria “I Love to Invite My Friends.” Amanda Tittle (Ida) plays the second role and seduces her counter part. Patrick Kilbride and Brian Wallin share the roles of Alfred and Dr. Blind. Both are intensely comic and physical parts. Kilbride is particularly good at the comedy and his voice is heaven on “Dove that has escaped.”
The absolute highlight of the night, though was the two big numbers the the huge chorus joined, “In the Fire, Stream the Grape,” more commonly known as the champagne song and the finale “Oh bat, Oh bat, at last release your victim” – which is also about champagne.
The music is beautiful, the voices are beautiful, and the set and costumes could outshine most professional productions. There is a reason the theater is full year after year for the Maryland Opera Studio. Die Fledermaus is fantastic fun.
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.
Die Fledermaus plays through April 19, 2014 at Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts – University of Maryland Stadium Drive, in College Park, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 405-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.