Monday, September 16, 2019

A Glittering Bat

Brian James Myer as Dr. Falke. Photos by Pat Kirk.
Opera San Jose
Strauss's Die Fledermaus
September 14, 2019

Opera San Jose opened its 36th season with a rousing, enjoyably chaotic rendition of Strauss's goofy classic, making the most of its infectious music without missing any comic chances.

Elena Galvan as Adele.
The cast was vocally tasty, beginning with moment one, Elena Galvan releasing a cascade of glistening notes as housemaid Adele receives a Cinderellish invitation to the ball. Galvan's coloratura is a fine dessert throughout, particularly in the Laughing Song.

OSJ has the laudable habit of drawing on its alumni, and Alexander Boyer is a perfect fit as Alfredo, the amorous Italian tenor whose singing drops Rosalinde to her knees like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Boyer's pipes have always been golden, so I'd count this as typecasting. I also enjoyed the way his "La donna mobile" was choked off by the jailer Frosch.

Maria Natale as Rosalinde, Eugene Brancoveanu as Eisenstein.
Maria Natale gives Rosalinde just the right level of corruptible elegance, with the help of some stunning gowns: the green concoction of Act I, the copper shimmer of Act 3 (Cathleen Edwards, costume designer).

Eugene Brancoveanu lends his robust baritone to von Eisenstein, along with a delightful level of party-boy energy. He joins with Galvan and Natale to derive the utmost hilarity from their Act I trio, "O Gott, wie rührt mich dies!", all three pretending sadness at their parting while secretly relishing their impending nights out. The little Bob Fosse dance moves are a nice touch.

As serious professional/secret mischiefmaker Dr. Falke, baritone Brian Jones Myer brought out the beauty of the Champagne Song's introduction. It's a warm moment, underlined by brotherhood. Another warm presence is bass-baritone Nathan Stark as the warden Frank. In the fun Act 3 hangover scene, he falls asleep at work, his cigar burning a hole through his newspaper.
Stephanie Sanchez as Prince Orlofsky.

Stephanie Sanchez's mezzo is superb, but her speech as Prince Orlofsky needs to be bigger, even cartoonish. It's a challenge, because the truly cliche Russian accent almost demands a baritone.

Tenor Mason Gates continues his run through the great comic roles as Dr. Blind, a beautiful mess of a lawyer (Eisenstein's conviction for insider trading is sadly topical). The role of Frosch, often given to a non-singing actor, went to OSJ alum Jesse Merlin. Merlin's hyper-droll delivery is excellent (a bit reminiscent of a character named Fenton from That '70s Show) and his tightly ordered marches in and out of the jail are a nice undercover joke.

Stage director Marc Jacobs trod a fine line between fun and chaos, his Orlofsky ball reminding me of something from the Marx Bros. The dance scenes (choreographer Robyn Tribuzi) made good use of some athletic professionals, but retained the ad hoc feel of a genuine party. Charlie Smith's set uses a backdrop of finely detailed window-work for the Eisenstein villa, the Orlofsky estate and the jail, and draws a nice echo from Orlofsky's rusted archway to the jail's rusted entrance. The orchestra made the most of Strauss's breezy score under Michael Morgan's graceful conducting.

Through Sept. 29 at California Theatre, 345 S. First Street, San Jose., 408/437-4450.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the novels Gabriella's Voice and Operaville. His most recent title, A Painting Called Sylvia, is available for free download at Amazon.

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