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Review: Seattle Opera starts 2006 with a waltzing bat

By Jessica Koch









Rosalinde (Jane Eaglen) enjoys a tête-à-tête with Alfred (Alan Woodrow)

At the heart of Johann Strauss’ famed “little opera,” Die Fledermaus, (The bat) lies a 3-hour production full of intrigue, comedy and laughter, with bright operatic arias, colorful dancing and an ever-flowing ambience that is as light and bubbly as champagne—the preferred drink for these Viennese party-goers.

But when Seattle Opera’s cast first took to the stage of M.O. McCaw Hall, January 14, initial fears were that this bat would flutter along the lines of Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, instead of exhibiting the playfulness intended by “The Waltz King.” Luckily, operatic artists as skillful as English soprano Jane Eaglen, who sung the role of cunning Rosalinde, and Richard Berkeley-Steele, who gave a clear and delightful performance of Eisenstein, calmed fears quickly, allowing the audience to enjoy this English version of  Die Fledermaus—a bat that knows how to dance to the waltzes, polkas and the infamous Hungarian czardas interwoven musically into the libretto written by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée.

However, it all began in the dark: the curtain was closed; the lights shut off as the audience enjoyed the sweet melodies and popular dancing motifs within the overture.  With conductor Gerard Schwarz at the helm, Seattle Opera’s orchestra, made up of musicians from the Seattle Symphony, masterfully set the tone for this humorous operetta. Though Austrian culture and late 19th century Vienna were clearly depicted through the striking backdrops and sets, lush costumes, and even within the fanfare of the choreography, the Seattle Opera’s Die Fledermaus included references alluding to a more modern time and national, as well as local topics. Poking fun at the Seattle Monorail, Desperate Housewives, and through the character of Alfred (tenor Alan Woodrow), Rosalinde’s singing admirer and performer of Siegfried throughout the opera, a local familiarity and Wagnerian tradition within the Seattle Opera itself was brought to light.

Prince Orlovsky’s ball in Act II is notorious for including unexpected guests and this was the case on opening night as well. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire had been expected, though she was forced to cancel her appearance due to the State’s flooding emergency. In her place, Seattle Opera’s general director Speight Jenkins announced a very unexpected tribute by Eaglen to legendary Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, who passed away recently at age 87.

Eaglen’s performance displayed a versatility many may not have been familiar with, adding to her astonishingly funny and witty Rosalinde, a very solemn and powerful rendition of Der Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Though Eaglen’s voice as a dramatic soprano clearly make her the perfect Brünhilde, her gestures, operatic mood and farcical tone in Die Fledermaus was able to convince even the most skeptical auditor of her role as Rosalinde. Using her abundant physical presence to her advantage, rather than letting it distract from the plot, the audience had many opportunities to enjoy Rosalinde. Especially when she told the audience that Adele, her chambermaid of slim stature, was wearing “half” of her dress. 

Adele, sung by Sarah Coburn, a young soprano with a charming voice involved the audience with a splendid interpretation of the renowned “laughing song,” beginning with the words “My dear Marquis, it seems to me, you should employ more tact.” And though the performance perhaps took its slapstick effects a little too far at times, this Die Fledermaus was indeed, a ‘bat’-ting success.


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