Although the name might lead some unversed in German to think so, no one “dies” at the end of “Die Fledermaus,” the comic opera the New Orleans Opera Association is presenting this weekend — unless it’s from laughing too hard or drinking too much champagne. Or dancing too strenuously.
Johann Strauss II’s lively, lighthearted operetta, whose name translates as “The Bat,” offers a rare combination of exquisite music and belly-busting humor that local audiences might feel they need to counterbalance a season in which the protagonists of three other productions do die.
“Die Fledermaus” — sung in German with dialogue in English — opened Friday night and has a Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m.
Set in the composer’s home city of Vienna, the topsy-turvey story concerns a series of plots, counterplots, twists and turns, mistaken identities and the like, but all in good fun.
In the lead role of Gabriel von Eisenstein, Liam Bonner was in fine voice and character Friday. Though he had sung the role before, he had never done it in German. That being the case, he proved a quick study, having been called upon at the last minute to replace the baritone originally scheduled for the role.
Soprano Melissa Citro was appropriately proper in her wifely role as Rosalinde von Eisenstein and convincingly mysterious and alluring as a phony Hungarian countess behind a mask during the ball scene in Act II. She sang throughout with a pretty coloratura, ornamenting just the right notes at the right times, especially during her “csardas” aria paying tribute to her make-believe Hungarian homeland.
Also delightfully generous with the coloratura was soprano Anya Matanovic as Adele, the Eisensteins’ maid. During the ball scene, she stole the show with her aria usually known as “Adele’s Laughing Song.”
Baritones also hold down two other major male roles, Nicholas Pallesen as Dr. Falke and Stephanos Tsirakoglou as Frank, the head jailer. Both excelled as singing actors, Pallesen as the smooth-talking schemer who set the whole farce up and Tsirakoglou as a bumbling, Oliver Hardy-type who can’t hold his liquor.
Vale Rideout, as Alfred, Rosalinde’s jilted suitor, is the lone tenor among the leads, making the most of his limited appearances with melodically ringing paeans to his lost love and making himself too comfortably at home with Rosalinde during Eisenstein’s absence.
In the “trouser role” of Prince Orlofsky, mezzo-soprano Emily Fons was a bit difficult to hear at times during her speaking lines, but her singing, especially the champagne tribute song in the ball scene, was right on the money.
New Orleans singers in comprimario roles included soprano Cara Williams as Adele’s sister, Ida, and lyric tenor Kameron Lopreore as Dr. Blind, Eisenstein’s incompetent lawyer. Both showed off well-honed vocal skills during their limited time onstage.
Local comic actor Ricky Graham had the audience in stitches during his Act III speaking role as Frosch, the jailer temporarily in charge during Frank’s absence. His opening monologue was replete with references only a New Orleanian would get, including to a $150 million jail and Ray Nagin. The audience loved it.
Director E. Loren Meeker kept the action moving smoothly and rhythmically, which could not have been easy, given the size of the cast plus chorus members, supernumeraries and dancers.
Choreographer Todd Rhoades also deserved plaudits for his part in the ball scene, where several different dance styles are called for. The ballet scene was artfully done, as were the famous waltzes that Strauss is best known for.
Robert Lyall conducted the musicians of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. With one of the most beautiful scores in the entire operatic repertoire to work with, the orchestral music alone would have been worth the price of admission. The chorus, under the direction of Carol Rausch, offered equal pleasure, especially in the “Oh, night of joy” number near the close of the ballroom scene.
All of the other visual elements — costumes, sets, lighting,wigs and makeup — deserved praise as well.