The bat came back

The bat came back: from the dead that is. Forgive me for invoking one of my very favorite animated cartoons (and Richard Condie). I said BAT not CAT.  

After many mediocre bats –productions of Die Fledermaus from the Canadian Opera Company over the years—my expectations were low.  While I expected an improvement this time I still was thinking of a frothy bit of fun.

The COC gave us much more than that.

Prominent among the resurrections is the laughing song.  While there are many versions, the one that has stayed with me longest in some respects summed up my low opinion of the operetta, namely Florence Foster Jenkins’ laughable laughing song.  She amuses me, ha ha ha. 

Ambur Braid has brought Adele back from the dead, banishing Florence once and for all because of the way the song is staged.  It’s full of defiance and could almost be sub-titled Adele Occupies the Stairway (Wall Street being a bit too far away for her).

Richard Bradshaw

Richard Bradshaw (photo by Michael Cooper)

I am reminded of Richard Bradshaw’s stated objective, which was to offer the best theatre in Toronto.  I’ve always found the goal impressive for its audacity.  For much of the past decade he did just that in a very competitive theatre town (until his untimely death…).  Fledermaus is in that tradition: tight, challenging, and easily the best thing I’ve seen on a stage in 2012, in a year that also included Einstein on the Beach.

I find myself unable to get certain moments out of my head.

The fluidity of the sets ties in to the psychological theme underpinning Christopher Alden’s interpretation.  Dr Falke is like Freud, his swinging pocket-watch a talisman of hypnosis and wish-fulfillment.  When the walls and floor (designed by Allen Moyer) are ripped asunder as if by an earthquake, Rosalinde’s bedroom –where we begin the adventures—is problematized.  Where are we?  Inside Rosalinde’s head, I would suppose.

The locations in the story itself are wonderful departure points for Alden’s symbolism, considering that we go from bedroom –site of futility & frustration—to a wild party, and from there to a jail, and maybe more futility one might fear, especially because once in the jail we see Rosalinde’s bed again.  Or did they make a break-through? If we don’t get a happily-ever-after I’m pleased precisely because it’s not a glibly superficial ending to this problematic tale.  But Rosalinde and Eisenstein appear to have more clarity, more insight into themselves and one another.  Falke/Freud couldn’t ask for any more than that, nor could a couple going for counselling.

I’m noticing this partly because I’ve been playing with a young child, noticing how we erect walls in our lives that children don’t perceive unless taught to do so.  The limitations are in our own heads, as are the solutions to our self-imposed problems .

And identity is just as fluid in this world, among so many travesties.  In addition to Orlofsky –the only one who’s actually scripted that way—Alden (aided by costume designer Constance Hoffman) populates the stage with a world of ambiguities.  There’s Frank, played by James Westman, gradually showing us another side of himself at the party, in a lovely dress.  So too with several nameless figures in the chorus.  We’re in a place where you can be anything you dream of.  It’s a place where –as Frank seems to demonstrate—one may not even know who one is until one lets loose: to find oneself.  This is not in any way a portrayal that would ridicule travesty, but rather a place of great dignity, that seems to honour and respect difference & exploration.  Dr Falke’s laboratory –that I alluded to in my earlier review—is a highly sympathetic place, and one that is empowering even if one of the individuals finding himself –Frosch—is himself a colossal threat to everyone else.

While I suspect some may not have liked the ending, I think it made great sense precisely because there is no neat answer.  Frosch is the dark underside of human nature, and unlike the bat, is the real nightmare lurking in the dark.  I was happy to laugh it all off at the end because there is no simple answer.    Jan Pohl as Frosch includes a twitchy series of uncontrollable body parts in his movement vocabulary, echoing what we saw in Dr Strangelove (creepy! but funny).

I’m looking forward to seeing the other Adele in this production, namely Mireille Asselin, and having another listen to everyone else.

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3 Responses to The bat came back

  1. This review makes me even more excited to see the production tomorrow night. There seems to be a general consensus (pace Harris in the Globe’s incredibly small-minded view!) among bloggers and critics that this is a revelatory production that sweeps away the heavy layers of whipped cream and chocolate which threaten to smother this piece. Thanks for this thoughtful analysis!

  2. barczablog says:

    You’re going to love it i think. Productions that shed new light on a work are always welcome, but this one is propelled by a series of fabulous performances as well.

    As for schlag? Hmm, while i like froth & fun as much as the next person, the old COC productions simply didn’t have enough natural wit because of the talent in those days. When froth is all you’ve got –big broad smiles and nice music, but no depth– one tires of it soon enough. What I especially love in this production are the deadpan characters. Ambur Braid (especially in her first scene) & Jan Pohl (throughout) are hysterical without smiling very much. A good comedian doesn’t telegraph his jokes, which is what the old productions used to do.

    I feel very lucky to see it again.

  3. Pingback: Second At Bat | barczablog

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