Lighthearted and comical, the Harvard College Opera’s production of Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus” opened on Wednesday, Jan. 31, with an outstanding orchestra and charming characters. The operetta, which translates to “The Bat,” featured iconic music by Johann Strauss II, a member of the Austrian music power family, and a German libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée.
The orchestra was a definite strong suit for the production. Conducted by Alexander “Sasha” Yakub ’20, who also served as music director of the production, the ensemble rang in the overture with beautiful tones and a firm presence, even though it was comprised of only 28 musicians.
The story is divided into three acts surrounding the mischief and troubles of Gabriel von Eisenstein (Ethan Craigo) and those around him. His wife, Rosalinde (Veronica Richer), is miserable after finding out that he’s been sentenced to eight days in jail for disobeying a police officer and must begin his term that night. Rosalinde’s old love Alfred (Samuel Rosner)—who never quite got over her—takes her husband’s absence as an opportunity to try to woo her back to him. Meanwhile, Rosalinde’s chambermaid, Adele (Arianna Paz), dreams of attending a grand New Year’s Eve party thrown by the glamorous Prince Orlofsy (Benjamin P. Wenzelberg) that her sister Ida (Nivi Ravi) invited her to that night. As each one of these characters laments over their own inability to attend the party, Eisenstein’s friend Dr. Falke (Oliver Berliner) sets them up to attend in disguise.
Rosalinde’s love for Alfred seemed sincere yet confusing. Even though she resisted his advances at first, she was shallow enough to be wooed by his voice and passionate serenades. Her exaggerated performance clearly revealed her emotional character while keeping with the humour of the rest of the operetta. Adele sulked in her lowly position as a chambermaid with a mediocre performance in the first act, but her vocals shone through in the second act, when she posed as an actress named “Olga.” In “Mein Herr Marquis”/“My Lord Marquis,” Adele scoffed at the idea of Eisenstein recognizing her as the chambermaid and revealed her vulnerability, uncertainty, and bewilderment in a touching moment.
Eisenstein, on the other hand, was a rather unlikeable character, with his insincerity to his wife and his lustful eyes for other women. His duet with Dr. Falke, “Kommt Mit Mir Zum Souper”/“Come With Me To the Souper,” was especially engaging and reflective of Eisenstein’s character, as he got literally entangled in Dr. Falke’s telephone cord on stage in a clever section of choreography. Police officer Frank (Luke Minton), who was supposed to arrest Eisenstein, unknowingly ended up meeting him at the party. Frank walked around in an unmistakable chicken suit and SWAT jacket, bringing laughs to the stage by acting exactly as a police officer should not.
Given the smaller size of the stage, the chaotic office setting in the opening background looked cluttered and distracting. Even though the modernization of the whole party and ball scene increased the accessibility and relatability of the operetta, some of the details were overly accented. The party set was too sparkly, and the costumes took attention away from the plotline itself. If the point was to overwhelm with color and showiness, then the set hit the spot. In highlighting the characters against the background, the sets strayed away from its purpose. Ironically, the sultry set of the gloomy jail scene in the third act was far less overwhelming and aesthetically pleasing.
The props, on the other hand, were craftily intertwined in the storyline. For example, Rosner’s Alfred hid under a trash can umbrella hat, perfectly blending into the background so much that his reentrance, usually announced by a beautifully vocalized melodic interruption, was delightfully surprising. If nothing else, the amount of time that Alfred spent on stage hidden in the trash can was impressive.
Interjected with English narrations by English Professor Gordon Teskey and acting parts in English, “Die Fledermaus” was an engaging and accessible show for the contemporary college student. With this revival, the Harvard College Opera proved that a true comedy can still bring about laughs and lighten up spirits 144 years after its premiere.
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22
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