A proper performance of “Die Fledermaus,” Johann Strauss’ classic operetta, should be like vintage champagne.
The unreasonable facsimile splattered across the stage of the Orange County Performing Arts Center by Opera Pacific on Friday resembled nothing so much as flat soda pop.
Bruno Walter, the great romantic conductor, knew what he was saying when he once admonished a colleague to treat the work as if it were by Mozart. The music and libretto deserve--no, demand--a delicate balance of light and shade, an enlightened fusion of elegance and wit.
Even in its most innocent charades, “Die Fledermaus” should show signs of humanity. Success requires equal parts refinement, polish, vitality and charm.
The new production assembled in Costa Mesa by David DiChiera started promisingly. Franz Allers, the sensitive old pro in the pit, conducted the overture fleetly, with insinuating grace, supple accents and a hint of echt -Viennese hesitation in the waltz beat.
Soon, however, the curtain rose, and nearly all was lost. Alan Kimmel’s sets--clumsy Jugendstil facades masking an aerial panorama of the Austrian capital--lent new meaning to the concept of fancy el-cheapo kitsch. Charles Caine’s costumes looked dowdy. Michael Montel’s staging scheme reduced the high Continental comedy to ponderous sitcom klutzery.
All this still might have been bearable--admittedly irksome, but bearable--if Strauss’ magical score had been permitted to soar and shimmer in a natural acoustical setting. But, once again, the local authorities introduced the sham of electronic amplification. Everything, as a result, sounded hopelessly raucous.
Either something is chronically wrong with the much-vaunted, $73-million Segerstrom Hall, or something is disastrously wrong with the aesthetic judgment of the resident manipulators. Both prospects give one pause.
Under the bizarre sonic circumstances, it was difficult to gauge the achievements of the obviously uneven opening-night cast. Cheryl Parrish, the plump and pleasing Adele, seemed to muster considerable coloratura glitter as well as some vocal subtlety. Heather Thomson, the reasonably sophisticated Rosalinde, seemed to sing with generous verve. Gregory Kunde, the mock-Italian Alfred, seemed to command a certain degree of tenorial savoir-faire. The others, however, found themselves in varying degrees of trouble.
Andre Jobin, the vigorous Eisenstein, hectored his way through the music and had to pretend to drop his French accent in the one ridiculous episode where it was needed. Lee Velta played the urbane Dr. Falke like a fugitive from “Oklahoma!” David Myrvold reduced Frank, the crusty warden, to a common blusterer. Mark Saltzman as Dr. Blind was made to labor under the delusion that stammering jokes are funny.
Jo Anne Worley, a gimmicky choice for the mezzo-soprano travesty of bored Prince Orlofsky, indulged in a personal appearance instead of establishing a character, and she couldn’t even approximate much of the music. Chacun a son degout. )
Eric Christmas enjoyed the conceit of playing Frosch, the besotted jailer, tastefully, as a superannuated British imp. Gretchen Johnson spoke and posed amiably as sister Sophie, a.k.a. Ida.
Aided by louder-than-life microphones and liberated from the lazy distraction of supertitles, most of the singers projected the cute old translation of Ruth and Thomas Martin deftly. It was good, at least, to be spared the polyglot perversions of the batty “Fledermaus” that passes for class these days at the Met.
Six anachronistic dancers from the Oakland Ballet did everything but waltz when the “Emperor Waltz” was interpolated in the ball scene.
And thus, another so-called opera season lumbered to a close in opulent and awesome Orange County. . . .