For a few hours Saturday, the ballroom of Loew's Hotel in downtown Annapolis was transformed into a Viennese salon filled with laughter and lilting waltzes.
This marks the third year that J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chorale have celebrated the new year with Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus - now with a new twist at a champagne dinner fund-raising party that was the ultimate presentation of Strauss' glittering operetta.
A capacity audience of 200 guests provided the festive atmosphere that became the setting for the operetta.
To fit the action into the limited confines of Loews' ballroom, Green used such clever staging as having cast members enter and exit by narrow aisles between tables filled with guests, sometimes pausing to mingle.
Instead of an orchestra, Green used only Diana Kinsley Stelz to accompany the singers at a grand piano at the front of the ballroom, where most of the action took place.
Green clearly understands how to make Strauss' "Flying Mouse" soar.
He added topical humor to the script he had edited for previous performances to tell the familiar story of Falke's revenge on Eisenstein, leaving him wearing his bat costume on a park bench for Viennese society to see. Falke's scheme centers on a masquerade ball and entangles Eisenstein's wife, Rosalinda, and others in a series of mistaken identities and infidelities.
Serving as host and master of ceremonies, conductor and editor-scriptwriter, Green employed chorale members to be party co-hosts at individual tables who later become a lively chorus in the second-act ball scene. Enlivening both acts with spontaneity, Green communicated his unique sense of fun through the cast he assembled.
Principals included Annapolis Chorale members Carolene Winter as Rosalinda and Laurie Hays as Ida and returning soloists tenor Paul McIlvaine as Gabriel von Eisenstein, tenor Andre Biermann as Alfredo, baritone Ryan de Ryke as Dr. Falke, and baritone Steve Markuson as prison governor Frank. Two exciting soloists I hadn't heard previously were Linda Croskey as Adele and Catrin Rowenna Davies as Prince Orlofsky.
This cast sang beautifully together and in solo arias and acted convincingly, all displaying fine comic flair. As Adele, soprano Croskey was a delight, begging Rosalinda for the night off, crying ever louder as she implored her mistress to allow her to visit her "dying" aunt. Croskey's "My Dear Marquis" was as exciting as any I've heard, and she sang it with panache, comically reacting to the advances of her philandering boss, disguised as the Marquis de Renard.
McIlvaine was perfectly cast as Eisenstein, savoring every moment with his stage wife Rosalinda and her chambermaid Adele, or bantering with de Ryke's Falke.
Rosalinda is a demanding role requiring the actress-singer to be on stage almost constantly in the first act, dealing with her cajoling maid, her husband about to depart for a prison stay and her returned suitor - Italian tenor Alfredo. Winter nicely handled Act I demands with enough left over to deliver a fiery Hungarian countess at the masquerade ball, complete with a gorgeously sung Czardas in Act II. As Alfredo, Biermann delivered a number of demanding arias and rose to new comic heights caricaturing the tenor.
As the wronged Dr. Falke determined to settle the score with Eisenstein, de Ryke easily met all acting and vocal demands. Markuson, a longtime favorite leading man, added another memorable performance to his repertoire as prison governor Frank, while revealing that his matinee idol baritone has lost none of its luster. Markuson also displayed a natural aptitude for comedy as he masqueraded as a Frenchman, and later as he incredulously announced that "Maryland now has a Republican governor," a fact he read from his tastefully displayed copy of The Sun.
Hays' singing was another highlight. Her duet with Croskey was exquisite, and her sense of fun disarming in her characterization of Ida, who restrains Adele as she masquerades as actress Olga. The 50 chorale members looked smashing and sang brightly, adding magic to the ball. Green demonstrated his musician's timing as champagne corks popped at every table precisely on cue as the chorus sang praises of the bubbly brew.
Singers and audience together enjoyed entertainment that raised funds to support the Annapolis Chorale - a cause to warm the heart no matter how cold the evening.