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Music is Good, Dialogue, Less So

May 03, 2008

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    May 03, 2008
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    Opera Carolina News

Music is Good, Dialogue, Less So

The singing is spirited. The orchestra adds bounce. The staging brings out the story's frivolity.

But there's one catch to Opera Carolina's production of "Die Fledermaus" - the dialogue. That's what has to tie together Johann Strauss' comedy of extramarital shenanigans. Opera Carolina, trying to be obliging to its English-speaking audience, uses a translation of Strauss' German, in the musical numbers as well as the dialogue. But when there's a break in the music, the cast is in alien territory. It drives home the fact that these are singers, not speakers. Sometimes the dialogue sounds stilted - overinflated by the effort to project to the last row. Here and there, Strauss' Viennese partygoers betray origins in the American South. Singers who have foreign accents - in one case, an accent that suits the character quite well - haven't been coached enough for their English to sound clear and comfortable.

Obviously, all of them need coaching in one way or another. The whole show takes on an air of the ill-prepared.

Thursday night, the hitches fought against the production's strengths. Bill Fabris' stage direction was animated without going to the choreographic extremes of his staging of "The Pirates of Penzance" last season. Conductor William Boggs spearheaded a lively, spontaneous performance. Though the Charlotte Symphony sounded thin at times, at its best it supplied just the pizazz the dialogue lacked.

When the singers got to sing, they were a vivacious group - headed by James Taylor and Robin Follman as Eisenstein and Rosalinde, the married couple with temptations on the side.

While Follman's tendency toward full-throttle singing took away some of Rosalinde's charm, it certainly added wallop to her masquerade as a flamboyant Hungarian countess. Taylor's Eisenstein had a sunny exuberance that made his liking for extracurricular adventure seem ultimately harmless. Dan Boye made Dr. Falke, the buddy of Eisenstein's who nearly gets him in trouble, just as genial.

Like most tenors who play Alfredo, the singer in hot pursuit of Rosalinde, Israel Lozano threw in snippets of one well-known opera aria after another. He delivered each one exuberantly. And he always switched adroitly into Strauss' breeziness.

Gloria Parker cut a mischievous figure as Orlofsky, the party-animal Russian youth who's played - in an operatic convention emphasizing boyishness - by a woman. Judit Lorincz treated the role of Adele, Rosalinde's maid, to a richer voice than high-flying sopranos usually have.

And Keith Jurosko did double duty: first, in drag, playing Orlofsky's 105-year-old voice teacher in a couple of duets from "Hansel and Gretel" added to the party scene; then as the jailer Frosch. Some hamminess found its way in. But you have to give Jurosko credit for knowing how to make dialogue hit home. Maybe he should've coached everyone else.

Steven Brown
Charlotte Observer