March 9, 2013

Review: Masterful stagecraft keeps lengthy operetta fast-paced

By CHRISTOPHER HYDE

"Die Fledermaus" is Strauss' most beloved operetta, but it is not often that one can see and hear an entire two-hour performance. The new production by the University of Southern Maine School of Music and Department of Theater, with the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Lehmann, is full length, in English, and yet it hardly ever drags.

THEATER REVIEW

"Die Fledermaus"

WHO: USM School of Music and Department of Theater

WHERE: Russell Hall, Gorham campus

DATE REVIEWED: March 8; continues through March 16

TICKETS: $10-$21

CONTACT: 780-5151; http://www.usm.maine.edu/theatre

The reason is excellent stage direction by Assunta Kent, musical direction by Ellen Chickering, and the fine voices they had to work with. A guest appearance by noted Maine tenor John McVeigh singing "You Are My Heart Alone" by Franz Lehar, was an additional treat on opening night Friday at Russell Hall.

The singers were all first-rate, but Jessica Kenlan stole the show as the chambermaid Adele -- in the famous "Farewell" trio, the "Laughing Song" at Prince Orlofsky's ball and two highly virtuosic solo numbers. The "Laughing Song" itself was one of those moments when everything came together perfectly, creating a scene that couldn't be bettered.

Anne Leonardi, as Rosalinda, the wronged wife who hopes to avenge herself with Alfred (Jesse Wakeman) an Italian tenor, was also well cast. She has a fine, clear voice and a lovely fake Hungarian accent. Her husband, Eisenstein, sung by Josh Witham, is stuffy, obsequious, repentant and as salacious as a naughty boy, sometimes all a once.

Dr. Falke, the Bat, who has put together the entire plot as a joke on Eisentstein, parts his hair in the middle and has an odor of Dracula about him. It is this sort of characterization, in addition to the music, that keeps everything so fast-paced that two hours go by in an instant. One more example of stagecraft is Ivan the Butler, played by Kelly Scrima, who does nothing but stand there with a supercilious expression on his face.

Act III of 'Die Fledermaus" always seems to drag a little, as in any farce where there has to be a long and incomprehensible denouement to pull everything together. Director Kent makes it move faster than usual with good stage business between prison warden Frank (Earl Vogel) and his drunken Lieutenant Frosch, played by Matt West.

It also provides an opportunity for Adele to show off her talents as an aspiring actress, so that Frank can support her training, a duty finally assumed by Prince Orlofsky, sung with vivacious boredom by Jazmin DeRice in an odd but charming little goatee.

The lovely period costumes, by Joan Larkins Mather, did away with the necessity of an elaborate set.

The Southern Maine Symphony helped to keep things sprightly throughout, in spite of a cramped orchestra pit, and made the most of music admired by Brahms.

The rousing finale led to a prolonged standing ovation from a capacity audience. Better order your tickets now, the theater is small.

Christopher Hyde's Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

classbeat@netscape.net.

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