FARGO-An opera centered around an 1899 gala may sound a bit stuffy, but the Fargo Moorhead Opera's performance of "Die Fledermaus" takes the stuffing out of the upper class and opera itself.
The season-opening production plays for-and delivers-laughs in a thoroughly enjoyable staging at North Dakota State University's Festival Concert Hall.
Nearly 150 years after its debut, Johann Strauss Jr.'s operetta remains a standard despite a lack of a great aria or many pieces known outside the opera world. What makes the FM Opera performance so thrilling is not so much the songs, but the playful spirit of the performers. Each singer seems to tap into the festive setting and shares the good humor with not only everyone on stage, but everyone in the crowd.
The story follows the conniving plot of Dr. Falke, seeking revenge on his old friend Eisenstein, who humiliated Falke years ago, leaving him with the nickname die fledermaus (the bat). Though Eisenstein has just been sentenced to prison, Falke convinces him to enjoy one last night of hedonistic freedom at a masquerade ball. He likewise convinces Eisenstein's wife, Rosalinda, and the couple's chambermaid, Adele, to attend without Eisenstein's knowledge, in an attempt to unravel the seemingly happy household.
Quade Winter's English adaptation gives the work an update contemporary audiences will enjoy with splashes of pop culture references. What unfolds is a madcap comedy that defies common sense, but in the hand of skilled actors and singers, you'll allow yourself to get swept up in the silliness.
Elizabeth Lewis plays Rosalinda with delicious suspicion. She gleefully toys with her husband after seeing him hit on his masked maid. Disguised herself, Rosalinda turns her drunken husband into a fool, convincing him she's a Hungarian countess with a song of her homeland. Lewis' soprano is powerful and so is her stage presence. She is as beguiling as she is imposing when she finally confronts her philandering husband.
As Eisenstein, Christopher Burchett has perhaps the most fun of them all, often playing the playboy as sit-com slapstick. It's a far cry from the serious roles he played the last time we saw him here, with the Poe project a few years ago.
Julia Lamon's return is also warmly welcomed as Adele, playing the maid as a flirty, silly girl, and delivering her "Laughing Song" with glee.
Likewise Katelyn Jackman chews up the scenery in the trouser role of the randy and rowdy Prince Orlovsky, the host with the most. Jackman pours her lines on in a heavy Russian accent and sings in the same, making the lyrics-though sung in English-almost indecipherable. This could be distracting if the mezzo-soprano's voice wasn't so beautiful. You need not understand what she's saying to appreciate how she sounds.
Colin Levin's baritone is wonderfully suited for the conniving Falke and his bat dances and conducting of the orchestra were just as smooth. Similarly, Nicholas DeMeo's suave tenor is a natural for Alfred, who woos Rosalinda with his singing.
As the jailer Frosch, Frederic Heringes, has no solos, but his comic delivery fires up the third act with jokes about shooting the tenor, the orchestra and speaking directly to the crowd.
Lewis, Jackman, Levin and DeMeo are all graduates of the FM Opera's Young Artists Program,
and their performances prove the residency is paying off. They and the other singers will each have juicier roles in their career, but under Eric Gibson's direction they all deliver winning performances in a fun production that will have you wanting to raise a glass.
If You Go
What: "Die Fledermaus"
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Festival Concert Hall, NDSU
Info: Tickets from $5 to $85, https://www.fmopera.org, (701) 239-4558.