Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Sparkling Lavish Production of Johann Strauss'
The Bay Area's acclaimed Lamplighters Music Theatre veered away from presenting its traditional Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to Johann Strauss' elegant and musically demanding operetta Die Fledermaus or "The Bat Bites Back," a new enchanting English libretto by David Scott Marley. I saw one of the last performances at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco before it closed on February 23.
This delightful operetta featured a sprightly cast and stimulating direction in a fresh production with glamorous surprises and even edginess. The Lamplighters staged this extravagant operetta in the original Vienna setting of the late 19th century.
Die Fledermaus is about a prank Gabriel von Eisenstein played on his friend Dr. Falke a few years earlier. As a result, Falke, dressed in a bat costume, became the laughing stock of Vienna. Falke has prepared a lavish ball to get even with Eisenstein. The details of the prank are sung by Prince Orlofsky in the second act.
Strauss' music is simple and lively and even a little rib-tickling. The new libretto by David Scott Marley featured entirely modern language and there were supertitles above the stage so the audience could follow along.
All of the performances by the singers/actors were flawless. Jennifer Ashworth sang the challenging Rosalinde role. Her voice offered up a rich and ravishing soprano. Soprano Maya Kherani, who played the unrestrained opportunist maid Adele, nearly stole the operetta in every scene with her magnificent soprano voice. She did a stunning rendition of "Laughing Song." Mezzo-Soprano Anna Yelizarova as Prince Orlofsky beautifully sang the charming "Chacun á son gout."
Martin Lewis made a fine Gabriel von Eisenstein, the butt of Dr. Falke's "bat's revenge." His light baritone voice was pleasurable. Samuel Rabinowitz gave a splendid performance as the prison governor Frank. He had a charming baritone voice. Mark Kratz as Rosalinde's supposed and presuming lover Alfred sang in an Italian style with great vibrato. William Neely was excellent as "the bat" Dr. Falke with a magnificent powerful voice. Maayan Voss de Bettancourt was fascinating with splendid vocal cords as Ida, Adele's cousin. Rounding out this great cast was Bruce Hoard as Frosch the jailer in the third act. He was hilarious without have to use a clownish shtick.
The large orchestra under conductor Maya Barsacq, who filled in for the ailing George Cleve, captured the charm of the operetta. The orchestra playing one waltz after another made me want to get up and dance with cast. Tom Segal's choreography was fantastic with the large cast of over forty actors dancing a great whirling waltz and prancing to a polka melody. Judy Jackson MacIlvaine's costumes were gorgeous, especially the flowing gowns in the ball scene of the second act. Lois Rhomberg's sets were marvelous especially the ball room scenes. Director Barbara Heroux put it all together flawlessly, providing an entertaining theatrical happening.
Die Fledermaus closed after performing in Walnut Creek, Youngville, Livermore, Mountain View and San Francisco. Coming up next will be Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, opening in August 2014 followed by Leonard Bernstein's Candide in January 2015.