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Opera Theatre's 15th sparkles with delightful "Die Fledermaus"
Who: Opera Theatre of the Rockies, conductor Christopher Zemliauskas, stage director Linda Ade Brand, producer Martile Rowland. Composed by Johann Strauss II.
Cast: Annamarie Zmolek, Joel Burcham, Brittany Ann Robinson, Drake Dantzler, Christopher Clayton and Amber Markova When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $23-$65; 520-7469; pikespeakcenter.com
Next production: Robert Ward’s “The Crucible” on Aug. 2 and 4
Don’t bother with the Kleenex. Make no study of the allegorical elements in the plot. Pay no heed to the integration of melody and motifs into the dramatic fabric. In fact, don’t do anything to prepare yourself for the Opera Theatre of the Rockies’ 15th anniversary production on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
But do expect to be highly entertained.
On Thursday, “Opera Theatre Goes to School” preview performance of Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” contained all the elements that have made the company a surprise star on the art form’s map in the Rocky Mountain region: excellent voices, fine acting, inventive stage direction and top notch production values. These were all in force to bring to life a piece of operetta that will perhaps leave opera diehards chanting “why bother,” while delighting others with its pure sparkle and silly situational comedy.
It’s operetta and really the best effort from an expression that had its heyday in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Producer Martile Rowland assembled some ideal ingredients to do Strauss’ masterpiece justice.
After a few missteps in the overture, the Christopher Zemliauskas-led pit orchestra found its footing and provided colorful and characterful accompaniment throughout the show. Waiting on stage on a glorious set provided by the Utah Festival Opera was soprano Brittany Robinson who made her Opera Theatre debut in 2010 as Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute.” As the coquettish maid Adele, she delightfully flitted through every comic opportunity that came her way. Most impressively, her voice has developed into a rich, shimmering instrument that projected beautifully without noticeable flaw.
The opening of Act I, however, was the weakest part of the performance. The performers seemed uncomfortable at first and there were issues that took some effort to accept. Using English dialogue and the original German lyrics in a piece that reads like a play was a questionable choice. The shift from pure acoustic singing to amplified dialogue was also a shock to the system and produced some distracting unintended sounds. Hopefully, this will be handled better on opening night.
Our centerpiece relationship between soprano Annamarie Zmolek as Roselindeand tenor Drake Dantzler as her husband Eisenstein took some getting used to. Zmolek, who grabbed our hearts last March as Violetta in “La Traviata”, is a vocal wonder. Pure delight flowed every time she sang. She also showed herself to be an excellent physical comedian. Now it can be said she has it all. Dantzler looked more like her son than lover. At first, his voice was accurate, but, at times, edgy. As the evening went on, he settled nicely into his role and its vocal challenges.
No problems for tenor Joel Burcham. He reveled in the shift to comedy from his dramatic performance as Alfredo opposite Zmolek last March. His performance as the lustful Alfred was charmingly over the top and his lush tenor a delight with every silly turn of the plot. Equally pleasing was Christopher Clayton. As the operetta’s protagonist Dr. Falke, his rich and finely textured baritone was matched by a witty stage presence. The first act’s character introduction came to a close with Chad Reagan as prison governor Frank. His voice was fine but his comedic touch was superb. He joined Zmolek and Burcham in a hilarious conclusion to Act I.
The sumptuous set for the Act II party scene brought us the rest of the musical cast and some glorious costumes. The Opera Theatre of the Rockies “Die Fledermaus” Ensemble Chorus, prepared by the company’s music director Daniel Brink, was spot on musically and theatrically, a real asset to the show. Local mezzo soprano Amber Markova made her Opera Theatre debut in the “pants role” of Prince Orlovsky. She brought a strong character and some fine singing to the role but lost her vocal focus at times.
Opera Theatre found two devices to help celebrate their “crystal” season. First, much of the chorus was donned in costumes borrowed from earlier company productions. Then as party entertainment, the male principals and then, the female principals offered two numbers from “The Merry Widow,” Opera Theatre’s first production.
Mention must be made of the other side of the coin. Led by Clayton and blessed by some inspired lighting, all musical forces congealed for a truly sublime moment: “Brother Mine” brought an appealing dose of artistic depth to the evening.
Stage director Linda Ade Brand’s highly-inventive touch reached its pinnacle in the final act. Setting the tone for the now completely ridiculous plot was celebrated local actor Robert Rais as the drunk jailer Frosh. He took this role totally over the top, likely where no Frosh has gone before.