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The dress rehearsal of Die Fledermaus by Wiener Meister Johann Strauss II at Brevard Music Center and Summer Institute and Festival showcased a superb cast in a production that would rival those produced by much larger institutions. By show time the open-air Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium was still sweltering, with a cool-down not to come until well after sundown. No matter — the members of the Janiec Opera Company, directed by David Gately and Brevard Festival Orchestra, conducted by Ken Lam, launched the glittering spectacle nonetheless with their signature energy and professionalism. The operetta was sung in German with English supertitles; all dialogue was in English. The production’s designers were Adam Koch, scenic design, Joe Hodge, lighting, Glenn Avery Breed, costumes, Brittany Rappise, wigs and make-up, and Brady Hislop, sound. Co-Sponsors were the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation and the Zimmerli Family Opera Endowment.
Oh, the voices! Though I come away from each production amazed at the collective, high level of talent, the cast of Die Fledermaus has set a benchmark for excellence that will be hard to top. Strauss’s operetta, in three acts with two intermissions, is no piece of vocal fluff, lasting well over three hours. The vocal demands of both soloists and chorus are steep, and the comic antics require some quick maneuvers to make the set-ups funny. This they did, and how! Yoni Rose shone as the singing master Alfred, Sydney Mancasola was the lyrically coquettish maid Adele, Melinda Whittington sang beautifully (despite a cold) as Rosalinda, Nathaniel R. Olson was the comical guy-who-keeps-digging-himself-in-deeper Eisenstein, the comical butt of the central joke. Dr. Falke was impeccably portrayed by Taylor White, and the strutting Prince Orlovsky, a pants role, was sung by mezzo-soprano Rebecca Henry. Rounding out the cast were Ethan C. DePuy as the clueless lawyer Dr. Blind, Geoffry Penar as the prison warden Frank, Emily Ford as Sally, Devin Drerup as Ivan, and Justin Eric Berkowitz as Frosch, the drunken jailor. The chorus, consisting of over 25 singers, had been well-coached, not only in singing, but dancing the several waltzes in Act II. The getrunken ballet trio in the middle of Orlovsky’s party was a real stroke of comic genius. It is impossible to select the evening’s high points, as the cast kept delivering, one aria, one ensemble, one chorus after another.
The orchestra conducted by Lam, who is also Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, was an equal partner in the evening’s stellar performance. Especially noteworthy was Lam’s grasp of the performance style of this most Viennese of music. His rubati and other subtleties of tempo modification were sophisticated and so musical — in them one could easily hear Straussian echos of the annual New Year’s Day broadcast from Vienna’s famous Musikverein hall.
David Gately, in his third summer as Director of the Janiec Opera Company, is clearly raising the performance standards, both vocally and dramatically, with each year. Currently the Company attracts over 200 applicants for its roster of 40 shining talents. Working under the kind of pressures one finds in professional opera houses, he and his staff and students manage to mount several of these incredibly polished, full-scale productions over the course of seven weeks. One is left utterly stunned by the scale of the enterprise and immeasurably moved by their work. Bravi tutti!