Wild night at the opera
Chico State puts on a rousing version of lively Johann Strauss II operetta
If you think opera is boring, too high-falutin’ or just plain dumb—think again. Or better yet, go check out a performance put on by the members of Chico State’s Opera Workshop, part of the university’s music department.
I did so last Thursday night (Nov. 18) when I went with my brother, Scott, to the opening night of a two-night run of comic operetta Die Fledermaus in the intimate Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall at Chico State.
Exuberantly directed by Ying Yeh (she sat below the lip of the stage all night long, gesturing dramatically to performers), Chico State’s English-language version of Austrian composer Johann Strauss II’s wackily entertaining, late-19th- century masterpiece was a lively, captivating joy from the beginning to its end, 2 1/2 hours later.
The production in three acts opened with the familiar Fledermaus overture played by the operetta’s live chamber sextet, featuring the energetic, accomplished grand-piano playing of Justin McKay.
The audience was drawn in immediately as characters approached the stage from the rear of the hall, laughing and chatting down the aisles.
The backstory of the operetta is basically about how a notary named Dr. Falke (played wonderfully by Adam Ferris) passes out in the town square wearing a bat costume (“die Fledermaus” is German for “the bat”) and is left there to be ridiculed by townspeople the next morning. The plot has to do with all of the ins and outs, intrigues and masquerades involved in Falke’s clever exacting of revenge against those who offended him.
Who knew that Chico had so many talented opera singers?
Christopher Sullivan plays Alfred, the music teacher who is in love with Rosalinde (Christine Littlefield), who is married to a well-heeled carouser named Gabriel von Eisenstein (John Hale), who is due to spend eight days in prison for insulting an official. He held his own nicely in his first solo song, singing “Darling dove that flew away” to Rosalinde.
The duet that followed—“Ah, my mistress has said no”—between Rosalinde in her striking red, pink and black costume and her chambermaid Adele (Katherine Feller) was also very pleasing. Adele at this point is lying to Rosalinde that her aunt is sick so that she can take the night off and go to Russian Prince Orlofsky’s masquerade ball. Feller’s singing—as it was all night long—was lovely and amazingly adept.
From there, the story gets more and more convoluted and complicated (and spellbinding—you have to and want to pay attention) as characters get themselves increasingly entangled in various relationship configurations and deceits.
Not only did the performers do an excellent job of singing, but their acting and comedy skills were most impressive. Daniel Baro, as Frosch, the booze-swilling jailer, was hilarious, as was Dan Durett, who played Dr. Blind, the stuttering lawyer. And Danielle Silveira was commanding as the sleek, gender-bending Prince Orlofsky.
It must be noted that Hale’s opera chops are striking. Not quite as imposing physically as a Pavarotti, Hale nevertheless commands the stage with his charisma, stature and voice.
That said, it was Feller as Adele who might be said to have stolen the show. Her singing is scary-good—sustained high notes emitted from her mouth elicited awed applause from audience members. Her delivery of the Fledermaus gem, “My dear marquis”—also known as “Adele’s Laughing Song”— in Act II was impressively spot-on. Imagine singing strings of “ha-ha-ha” all over the musical map in tune. And that high note at the end of the song was an undeniable bull’s eye for Feller.
The intimacy of the room and the talent, humor and likeability of the performers made it easy to imagine I was being served opera in a cozy European cabaret in some other, earlier time.
Chico State opera—not boring in the least.