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High Flying Voices Delight in Fledermaus

Brown Theater, Wortham Center
10/25/2013 -  & October 27, November 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 2013
Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
Laura Claycomb (Adele), Anthony Dean Griffey (Alfredo), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Rosalinde), Liam Bonner (Gabriel Eisenstein), Reginald Smith Jr. (Blind), Samuel Schultz (Dr. Falke), Michael Sumuel (Superintendent Frank), Susan Graham (Prince Orlovsky), Uliana Alexyuk (Ida)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Thomas Rösner (conductor)
Lindy Hume (Director), Richard Roberts (Set Designer), Angus Strathie (Costume Designer), Michael James Clark (Lighting Designer)

L. Bonner (© Felix Sanchez)

If the trio of Laura Claycomb, Susan Graham and Anthony Dean Griffey aren't enticement enough to see Houston Grand Opera's Die Fledermaus, there is plenty of icing on the cake. A true star turn from Liam Bonner, a former HGO Studio member, and a stunning HGO debut from Wendy Bryn Harmer are further vocal high points, and the lavish set design and over the top staging make the evening one of unabashed visual and vocal entertainment.

Director Lindy Hume isn't one to let operas speak for themselves. Several seasons ago, her Rigoletto revealed a hand ready to get very noticeably into the fray, breaking the fourth wall and making no mistake that there is a big personality at work. Her Die Fledermaus is no different, and she is upfront about her approach, asserting that audiences "don't want to have a political or philosophical message rammed down their throats" and that "there was much more to be gained by bringing the opera into the early twentieth century." It isn't clear what audience she is generalizing about or exactly the "much more" the production team was seeking to gain by changing the setting to 1930s New York City, complete with cameos from Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. What is clear is that Hume is a stylist, and feels confident enough to interpolate extended stand up comedy routines and slightly behind-the-times pop culture references into Haffner and Genée's libretto, a big band chart into Strauss' score and, yet again, to break the fourth wall. It all looks and sounds wonderful, and whether you love or hate the production, there is no denying its memorability.

The cast gives their all in every role. Liam Bonner is in top vocal form and proves himself to be an impressive comic actor. His physical stature and technical assuredness give Eisenstein a cockiness befitting many misguided modern-day celebrities, and his interactions with the wonderful Wendy Bryn Harmer are delicious. Bryn Harmer sings Rosalinde with ease, flying through coloratura gracefully and equally able to express outrage or desperation as needed. Susan Graham is stunning as Orlovsky, her rich voice as strong and flexible as ever, and she commands her partygoers with infectious authority. The amazing transformation of Anthony Dean Griffey from a shocking, eerie Peter Grimes to the virile, incessant and truly funny Alfredo is great to see. Laura Claycomb sings Adele with agility and accuracy

S. Graham, S. Schultz (© Felix Sanchez)

Thomas Rösner lends an authentic Austrian lilt to the score, which is clearly enjoyed by the HGO orchestra. There is perhaps a bit less finesse in the playing than in the concurrently running Aida, but coordination between the stage and the pit are like clockwork. The HGO chorus does an excellent job overcoming some very awkward translations and bolstering the fine soloists on stage. The choreography (by Daniel Pelzig) deserves special mention, as it is thoughtfully integrated into the staging and expertly performed, including some fine footwork by many of the chorus members and lead cast members.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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