The Houston Grand Opera Reviews
Die Fledermaus (The Bat ) HGO @ The Miller Theater Houston
by Chiara Casiraghi
May 16, 2014 — Below a clear, sunny, Friday afternoon sky guests walked from the parking lot to the Miller Outdoor Theater evening showing of Die Fledermaus performed by the Houston Grand Opera. Like all Miller shows admittance was free. Big ball gowns and champagne glasses were traded for comfortable clothing and picnics with wine and beer. One could choose the traditional opera viewing experience in the covered orchestra seating or the more casual option of the large hill directly behind the covered seats which is sloped just enough to provide a good view for every guest. The hill seating was full of families, couples and friends sitting on blankets or folding chairs, sharing their picnics and popping the wine during the overture as food and beverage is permitted on the hill.
HGO was prudent in their offering of Die Fledermaus, for the Miller Outdoor Theater series as the comedic operetta is performed in English and boasts a comedic script. It’s the perfect show to introduce newcomers to the Opera world. This particular version of Fledermaus is set in the roaring twenties, New York City backdrop rather than the original; 1899, Vienna. This alternate take brings in the energy and excitement any Gatsby fan could relate to.
Act One: The stage is set in a luxury apartment, high atop the city with a skyline view, belonging to Gabriel and Rosalind Eisenstein [Kevin Ray and Natalya Romaniw]. The sets are perfectly minimal, serving their purpose without crowding the stage and the costumes are resplendent with feathers, silks and rhinestones that sparkly all the way out to the hill seats. As the curtains open Rosalind’s maid Adelle [Andrea Carroll] is on the phone chatting with a friend and wearing her mistresses silk and feathered robe, fooling the audience for a moment into believing she is the lady of the house…until Rosalind returns early from her successful shopping trip. The audience is immediately entrapped with the comedic one liners, excellent timing of the performers, and their gorgeous voices when they break into song a la musical theater. The plot is introduced and the audience is enticed with the promise of a extravagant party as the main characters are duping one another to get out of their prior commitments, including Mr. Eisenstein’s eight day jail sentence, all to go to the same party. The Italian vagabond Alfredo [Scott Quinn] becomes a fan favorite as he’s tries to re-win the married Rosalind’s heart with his hilarious broken English sweet talking and of course champagne.
In act two we meet the host of the famous party; a bored, teenage Prince Orlovfsky played by mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule. There is drinking, celebrating and divertissement through choreographed dancing, plus a cameo dance appearance from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers [Philip Broomhead, Krissy Richmond]. The lead characters try to enjoy the party to the fullest and avoid detection.
As third act began, in a jailhouse no less, the lawn audience dwindled down. When the sun set, a cool breeze took its place and a few folks began packing up their picnics and chairs during intermissions and heading off.
Houston Grand Opera presents Carmen
An Opera in four acts, music by Georges Bizet, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Brown theater, Wortham Theater Center
Sung in French with projected English translation
The theater is packed, the lovely gowns for opening night bustle, and the orchestra tunes…wait…its 7:30 and the lights are still on? Why were all the bicycles in downtown Houston? Bike Houston’s Membership drive! Parking was full, underground parking was packed! Thank goodness the parking staff was on their toes with quick entry and wonderful directions in, thank you. Some fine arts groups warn their subscribers…
The striking silky red curtains had draped bunting to open and close acts with even more of a flourish! Once most of us were seated…return to orchestra tuning, lights dim, and voila, the tunes everyone was humming on the way back to their cars. One opera goer expressed interest in the Toreador Song being her alarm! But I get ahead of myself.
The HGO program offered informative articles about the dramatic life on the journey to Carmen of Georges Bizet and insights into the creative expertise of Director Choreographer Rob Ashford, reflected in the intriguing performance.
Wagner did NOT tire the fine HGO orchestra. Their bows and fingers flew under the direction of Rory Macdonald for the lilting and bright, as well as dramatic music that drives the story.
Theatre goers were captured as the curtain rose with the surprising scene that awaited them. The sets transported us to Spain with no airfare needed. The lighting helped in most cases to direct our attention for the key story lines.
Constant movement, not static groups standing and singing, kept energy on stage. Touching, slow motion arches and kicks, dancing with opera stars. The children’s chorus brought their own energy for appearances, one early and one late in the show. Some crashing chairs and tripping on set stairs showed the star quality of those performing – it was all planned, right?
Loads of high school and some younger students were in the audience. Due to the travelogue of the story, the curtain was down between all acts, offering time to start coughing games, which extended into the orchestra’s interludes. A three hour opera may not be the best for some ages, though when asked, one young opera goer had seen Carmen before and enjoyed this one. Know your student.
Act one, the incredible ensemble has on black costumes …where’s Carmen? The dramatic flourish and color portrayed by the program cover and memories of the lead were instead developed through the first two acts. She walks in as one of the girls with an attitude to become the dramatic leader of the bandits: the voice –always splendid.
Watching and listening to that luscious voice as Don Jose’s character developed had shades of Jekyll and Hyde—frustration with his loss of himself due to Carmen’s possession. His physicality grows with his frustration, and Carmen’s response is so realistic it’s scary (in a good way since its theatre).
Zuniga’s bold character and bolder voice, Frasquita and Mercedes bookends for the star while standing well on their own in voices and acting and the lighter hearted Dancaire encouraging all in their expertise of theft offered a wide variety of characters to follow.
The dancers…I can’t wait for you to see them, and the choreography they so impeccably brought to life! No spoilers: don’t depart prior to act 4, a combination Tony/Academy award level performance.
HGO details: https://www.houstongrandopera.org/Site/Tickets/calendar/view.aspx?id=4066
Carmen opera synopsis: http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/opera/qt/carmensynopsi