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Do I hear a waltz at Houston Grand Opera?

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Die Fledermaus

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Die Fledermaus, written by the waltz king Johann Strauss II, is currently playing at Houston Grand Opera. The production opened last week with a star studded cast that included famed mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in her role debut as Prince Orlovsky, acclaimed soprano Laura Claycomb, and the well-known American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey.

This production was a co-production by Opera Australia and is owned by Opera de Montreal. Set in the lavish world of the 1920s with updated, modern (at least for the time), translations and sung in English. This examiner has spent quite some time harping on the woe’s of English supertitles when the text is sung in English, but they proved be quite helpful...

Die Fledermaus is a story of back-stabbing, lust, deceit, and, ultimately, love. Our characters spend the evening figuring out ways to hide who they really are in order to live, at least for this one evening, as they’ve never lived before; it is a theme that still holds valid in todays society.

For a full summery of the plot, please click here. Our production deviates from the original plot by adding references to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (with an awkward bit about Lindsay Lohan and Anthony Weiner).

The cast included some great homecomings, especially that of Liam Bonner, a former HGO studio artist, who played Gabriel Eisenstein. His was a rich baritone that also has the wonderful capacity to soar and stretch into an upper register without losing any of its clarity or heft.

Anthony Dean Griffey added great comical effect as Alfredo, a role most unlike those he is known for. He even gets a chance to make fun of this fact by singing a snippet of Peter Grimes during the jail scene in the last act. Mr. Griffey will be singing the role of Peter Grimes at Carnegie Hall later this month.

Susan Graham, who has been on top for the past twenty-five years, is still making debuts in roles she has never sung. This one proved to be just as wonderful as all her other successes. One just wishes Strauss had written the role as more of a major character. Quite at home in a pair of slacks, this pair demands authority which she commands most effectively.

Laura Claycomb stole the show with her “Laughing Song” aria in the second act. She has such tremendous control and flexibility, one believes she could keep going higher and higher til she’s reached the top of the proscenium.

Wendy Bryn Harmer played the heroine Rosalinde with a fine sensitivity of character. Not over playing or pandering, but delivering a solid performance worthy of the part. Her career is beginning to take off and theres little wonder as she sang of her Hungarian homeland which was met with great applause.

Dr. Falke, played by Samuel Schultz, was the main protagonist who started and ended the evening. His name will be known very shortly to many an opera-goer with his lush, smooth baritone.

The full sound of the Houston Grand Opera chorus was a treat to hear after a few years of absence. Maestro Thomas Rösner lead the orchestra with a rousing exuberance befitting of a Strauss score.

The production, though slightly corny, and with more ham than an Easter celebration, was ultimately quite entertaining, peppered with bouts of hilarity (particularly in the third act with the comical styling of Jason Graae), and held true to the moral that one must always be true to oneself–and to be able to make fun of oneself. Which HGO did by adding jokes about their other current production of Aïda.

Die Fledermaus will run until November 10.

For more information about The Houston Grand Opera, click here.

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