TOT: Revenge of the Tenors

This afternoon the Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (or The Bat) opened to a sold-out audience at the St Lawrence Centre.

It’s sometimes called “The revenge of the bat” although today I was inclined to think it’s more the revenge of the tenors, who seemed to take over the show in the second act.

I’m not complaining. Tenors are the butt of so many jokes—in this work and elsewhere—that one doesn’t always want to admit one’s vocal range for fear of being mocked. Anna Russell famously said that heldentenors have resonance where their brains ought to be. In the Strauss operetta it’s even worse than that.

Scott Rumble and Kirsten LeBlanc (photo: Gary Beechey)

We begin with Alfred (played by Scott Rumble) as a tenor whose romantic pursuit of Rosalinda (played by Kirsten LeBlanc) includes his habit of singing chunks of opera on the assumption that she and everyone else wants to hear him. No shrinking violet, he.

Rosalinda is married to Eisenstein (played by Keith Klassen) another tenor. She and her maid Adele (played by Andrea Núñez) both make plans to go to a party at the villa of Prince Orlofsky (played by Greg Finney) who is not a tenor.

Andrea Núñez and Greg Finney (photo: Gary Beechey)

Given that some productions take a walk on the wild-side at this point, it’s worth noting that TOT offer something relatively wholesome.

The production is especially strong on the musical side, Derek Bate conducting the tiny TOT orchestra and the chorus to great effect.

When Greg Finney appeared in the second act it was almost predictable what would happen: that the show would suddenly come to life, as it usually does when he shows up in a TOT show. His relaxed and natural demeanor makes everyone a bit better, a lot funnier, and more believable. This is especially true for the two women. While they sang tremendous performances – LeBlanc with her big powerful voice, Núñez offering brilliant coloratura—both shone brighter in the presence of Finney’s madcap portrayal of the Prince. He makes it look easy.

The other remarkable performance came from an unexpected source, namely Guillermo Silva-Marin, the Founder and General Director of TOT. Guillermo stepped into the role of Frosch, another tenor. We watched as he and Alfred took over the show in the last scene, singing lots of tenor music not by Strauss. I knew that Guillermo could sing –indeed he was once a tenor in NY with the Metropolitan Opera and the NY City opera—as well as the Canadian Opera Company. I saw him sing in the COC’s excellent 1988 Ariadne auf Naxos.

Left to right: Guillermo Silva-Marin, Theodore Baerg, Tracy Dahl, Christopher Cameron & Dennis Giesbrecht in the Canadian Opera Company’s 1988 Ariadne auf Naxos (photo: Robert C Ragsdale, FRPS)

He still has a voice. Who knew? Obviously Guillermo did, casting himself in this comic turn. I was going to say it’s a “small part” but you know what they say. There are no small parts.

Hearing Scott Rumble and Guillermo together was a huge thrill, as the tenors took over the show for awhile.

Guillermo Silva-Marin and Scott Rumble (photo: Gary Beechey)

Die Fledermaus, The Revenge of the tenors, sorry that should be, the Revenge of the Bat, continues with performances Friday December 30 and Saturday December 31 at the St Lawrence Centre.

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