The Annapolis Opera showed real pluck in mounting its production of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"), surviving a disruptive, last-minute change of venue that transported the operetta to Severna Park High School last weekend.
That kind of perseverance merits admiration. (The production was displaced by the Annapolis High School homecoming dance.) Still, I was less than taken with the production.
"Die Fledermaus," a humorous tale of deception, infidelity and practical joking spun out in the frothy Viennese melodies of the Waltz King, is always worth doing well. The operetta requires comedians with considerable vocal talent to handle the florid writing that dots the score. The "stand still and bellow" school of opera singing won't work here but comic timing alone won't make the intense vocal demands go away. It's a toughie.
The Annapolis Opera's "Die Fledermaus" was dominated by its male leads.
Gary Leard was terrific as the drunken, philandering von Eisenstein. He was matched every step of the way by Robert Patton's hilarious Warden Frank who came tipsily to life with deft comic timing and an expressive baritone voice.
Reginald Allen was a pleasure as Doctor Falke, the Machiavellian prankster whose practical joke creates virtually the entire plot. Stephen Stokes was very funny as Alfred, the pompous Italian tenor who puts the moves on Rosalinde, von Eisenstein's flirtatious wife.
Deborah Lawrence's Rosalinde started off competently but with little sparkle and a lower register overmatched by the orchestra. She hit stride by Act II, however, and her phony Hungarian Czardas was fiery as well as funny.
The real disappointment was Rhonda Ahearn as Adele, the von Eisenstein's dizzy, ambitious chambermaid. This soprano was handcuffed by the considerable demands of her role. Her top range was simply insecure and her many vocal runs were breathy and quite out of control. Talented sopranos abound in the Baltimore-Washington area, and, frankly, it's hard to believe that she was the best the local company could do.
The reliable Marcia Plait Treece sang the "Pants" role of Prince Orlovsky (a mezzo-soprano portraying a male character) with authority. Yet she seemed wooden and uncomfortable on stage, as if resigned to the fact that it's tough for a mezzo with a painted mustache to sound like a male Russian nobleman. An uninhibited entry into a role, this was not.
Ronald Gretz is always a fully prepared, no-nonsense conductor, and he kept his singers and players well-integrated.
But, on many occasions, the orchestra clearly was laboring to keep up with Herr Strauss' demands, most notably in the extravagantly tuneful overture that contained more than a few frayed edges. While I didn't expect a voluptuous string sound reminiscent of Willi Boskovsky and the Vienna Philharmonic, the orchestra frequently sounded scratchy and distractingly small-scale.
Not a major success then, though the male leads made it a fun evening much of the way.