Deserved credit goes to a mighty cast – including a local troupe of young dancers who performed a delightfully flamboyant version of the ‘can-can’ – as North West Opera provided royal entertainment with its version of Johann Strauss’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ (The Bat) this weekend.
In what must have been a most challenging group undertaking at Donegal’s An Grianan theater, in one instance, the stage was awash in color with more than seventy performers gathered together there, the opera company ticked all the boxes for a memorable, thumbs-up evening. Creative costumes, stage settings and choreography combined with fine singing, wonderful acting, skilled orchestral music and even subtle touches of modernism in the dialogue, including references to Irish breakfasts, poitín and Hilary Clinton’s Internet mischief.
Humor was richly abundant in the opera’s group’s interpretation of this three-act late 19th century Viennese farce performed in English about a philandering nobleman, Gabriel van Eisenstein, (Paul Martin) caught flirting flagrante delicto at a fancy-dress ball by his wife, Rosalinde, (Anne Jennings) through the crafty efforts of his close acquaintance, Dr. Falke (David Robertson). Adroit acting made these light-hearted scenes funnier, with even in minor roles such as the hapless jailer (Forsch) played with gusto by Deigh Reid, who was also the show’s director, as well as the amusing ‘French introductions’ ball scene between Eisenstein and prison governor, Frank, played so well by Frits Kamp.
Particular highlights included American soprano Diana McLaughlin’s ‘double role’ as the chamber-maid, Adela, and Olga, her acting prowess with prolific vocal talent culminating in her faultless delivery of ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ (The Laughing Song). Robertson played the schemer hell-bent on revenge on van Eisenstein for embarrassing him when he was dressed as a bat at a previous ball very convincingly with a balanced blend of nervous, excitable anticipation and artful cunning. Tenor Arthur Swan also deserves praise for both his singing and his witty portrayal of ebullient Alfred, the would-be lover of Rosalinde, who ends up taking van Eisenstein’s place in jail.
Baritone Martin shouldered much of the weight of the evolving plot with panache, at varying times expressing impatience with his lawyer for not getting him off a charge linked to a duel and utter duplicity as he convinces his wife he must go reluctantly to jail when, in fact, he’s off to flirt with pretty ‘camellias and blushing violets,’ as Dr. Falke describes the ladies at the ball. Martin’s humorous imitation of a webbed-wing night creature in full flight might well qualify him as a keenly observant chiropterologist.
Off-stage kudos also go to wardrobe mistress,Judi Friis, who must have been extremely busy choosing and adjusting the fabulous costumes, and stage manager, Jane Mogey, painter Celine McGlynn and set designer, Deigh Reid, who created impressively contrasting backdrops such as the parlor of van Eisenstein’s home in the opening scene replete with period mahogany hat-stand, elegant sofa and crystal decanter and glasses and the rough-and-tumble jailhouse in the final scene, with an amusing ‘December 32’ on the calendar wall.
Guest conductor, Bavarian-born Anton Zapf, led the 12-piece orchestra with aplomb, even managing an amusing off-stage dialogue skit with Alfred. Interestingly, Zapf is also a world champion of the masters in ski jumping and plays soccer for FC Bayern Munich, a rare individual indeed.
As for the rousing, effervescent chorus lines of can-can dancers, choreographer Jessica Peoples, Zona Studio Dancers should be delighted with the outcome and the audience’s enthusiastic response.
All in all, North West Opera’s hosting of ‘Die Fledermaus’ last weekend, after months of rehearsal, proved to be a delightful romp with sparkling music and song from a talented cast as evidenced in their rendition of ‘Champagne Toast’ in Act II. The naturalness with which they interacted with each other during the crowd scenes at the fancy-ball was a tribute to both their deft acting skills as to those of the choreographer and director.
“The feedback over the two nights has been excellent, making the months of hard work very worthwhile,” was how Lisa Hone, marketing executive with North West Opera succinctly summed up the feelings of all concerned with this excellent production.
Such feedback included that of musician and LYIT bio-science graduate, Samuel Horenshtein, who said, “I found myself leaning forward on the edge of my seat as if drawn by a childlike wonder to hear more, to see more. Terrific work by both on-stage performers as well as technicians, including sound and lighting, made this wonderful evening of entertainment possible.”
Artistic director and choral mistress, Jennings added, “The principals’ comic timing was as important for this production as vocal abilities. It was as much about the actor’s performance as about the singing. We wanted to ensure that we would entertain all – not simply opera enthusiasts.”
The weekend performances by North West Opera were hosted at An Grianan with support from Donegal County Council, the Arts Council and Jacksons Hotel in Ballybofey.