I raved about the new Canadian Opera Company Die Fledermaus when it opened last week. Tonight I had the privilege of another look with a slightly different cast.
Some things inevitably work best the first time. A joke with a surprise can’t get the same response if you know that it’s coming.
Opening night of Christopher Alden’s production felt edgy, a combination of fin-de-siècle hedonism, the psychology of wish-fulfilment with a dark authoritarian side to it and Strauss’s original froth. From where I sat I was particularly captivated by the two women wearing the same clothes, namely Rosalinde and her maid Adele.
Tonight I felt quite a bit different. Mireille Asselin assumed the role of Adele on a night I attended in the company of my wife. I wonder if my more conservative take on the piece might be owing to the unconscious context I had brought with me…(?)
Where opening night I saw Adele as a site for class-warfare, and pondered the empowerment of women as I watched, Asselin’s Adele was less the revolutionary, and more the charming imposter at a party (in other words, more or less the way the role is written). Did I see less edge because I was caught up in the most bourgeois elements of the story this time? I was watching how Eisenstein & Rosalinde played out, noticing how they went opposite directions in the so-called reconciliation at the end of the operetta (when it’s all blamed on champagne).
If I were to contrast Braid & Asselin, it’s to acknowledge that each has a particular strength that is the lynch-pin of their performance, influencing how everyone else comes across. I think Asselin is more operatic than Braid, tossing off her coloratura perfectly, the high notes like dots of whipped cream arcing through the air. Braid’s focus is more dramatic, her facial expresssions and delivery more extreme, and her reading more intense than Asselin’s, changing her relationship to Eisenstein (her boss) and the drama around her. I was surprised at how different they felt, and how viable each one is. The show with Ambur Braid has more instances of dark truth, while Asselin’s is lilting Viennese operetta, light and frothy in the usual ways without any genuine threat. I think the fan of operetta coming to Fledermaus might be more comfortable with Asselin and her stunning vocalism. I think the COC brass chose Braid for opening night because the charisma of her performance is electrifying.
Hm, or is the difference me, sitting alone opening night (and totally smitten by the parallel tales of gorgeous women and their empowerment?) vs sitting with my wife tonight (and so, caught up in the sad story of a failed marriage rather than the parallel stories of women)…? I don’t know. But isn’t it wonderful to have two wonderful performers each taking the role & the operetta in a different direction as a result.
Tonight I must again credit the COC Chorus as the other ‘star’ of this production, particularly once they’re decorated by Constance Hoffman’s costumes. Their energy levels tell us what Alden is trying to do, whether he’s seeking the mad joys of hedonism, the pathos of travesty or world-weary sadness. His Fledermausketeers sound & look marvellous.
Tamara Wilson sounded quite good in spite of having announced a cold via Facebook. The one tiny bit of evidence was her brief visit to the high note at the end of her Csardas (held longer last week); otherwise she again sounded magnificent, with a big powerful sound, a fluid line, and an uncanny ability to play comedy. My biggest laugh tonight was over one of her lines, which I won’t give away (stealing that from you if you might see the show), except it’s a brilliant exchange with Asselin in the first part of the work, when Adele is still in maid’s attire.
I have to mention three other performers.
James Westman is a pleasure to watch and to hear in a role that I’ve hardly noticed in the past. Singing the part of Frank, it must have been a shock to be told he’d have to cross-dress for part of the role. While I’ve superficially given away a bit of a gag, it doesn’t in any way prepare you for Westman’s subtle performance, excellent delivery of his lines, and superb chemistry with everyone else on stage.
Speaking of travesty, I want to speak a bit more about Laura Tucker as Prince Orlofsky. Tucker raised her comic intensity much higher tonight from the comparative subtlety of opening night. I have to wonder if this is simply a matter of getting comfortable in a role, finding her way and discovering new nuances, but Tucker was always fascinating to watch and quite lovely to hear.
Similarly Michael Schade is also getting comfortable with his Eisenstein, a role that’s not terribly flattering in this production, and lacking the conventional closure of a happily ever after. Schade makes Eisenstein genuinely three-dimensional, a fascinating & quirky beast who’s a likable scoundrel, even as he’s caught red-handed by his wife. That intangible aura he brings –making us LIKE Eisenstein–is essential (although again, with the feminist reading i brought to opening night perhaps i wasn’t so sympathetic); otherwise we won’t care about the couple, won’t worry about their possible reconciliation at the end.
Hm, tonight’s show was a gentler comedy. While husband and wife do not kiss and arrive at happily ever after (if that’s a spoiler i gave it away already), curiously this configuration (with Asselin as Adele) makes eventual reconciliation feel possible, whereas the other cast with its edgier humour and in-your-face politics (the women but also Jan Pohl’s quirky Frosch) aren’t just funny, but have serious undertones as well (as noted in a pair of earlier reviews of the first cast: Fledermaus: just like our century | The bat came back ).
Die Fledermaus continues until November 3rd at the Four Seasons Centre.