Casting bolsters performance by Czech Opera Prague

The Czech Opera Prague, directed by Martin Otava, gave new meaning to the term "light opera" as it presented a lighter-than-air performance of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" Saturday evening at the Lied Center. There was not a heavy note in the entire production, from the cast's precise and weightless movements about the stage to the light-hearted treatment of the plot itself.

The operetta was performed in German, with English supertitles, but when the audience heard Eisenstein, in the first scene, tell the maid to order "fried chicken" for his supper, we knew the company would wring more fun than usual from this airy plot. Comic acting was broad - and excellent - throughout, and the music was pleasing from the familiar three opening notes of the overture until the last chord of the choral finale.

Casting was right on the money, and there were no weak individual performances. Jitka Svobodova gave Rosalinde both the requisite hauteur and a strong dramatic coloratura voice that stood out clearly over the chorus and shone in numbers like "Csárdás."

Tenor Jan Jezek played and sang Gabriel Von Eisenstein with clarity and assurance. And the young lyric soprano Anna Klamova-Janotova stole scene after scene as the soubrette Adele, hitting her high notes and flouncing about the stage convincingly as a hoyden having the time of her life.

The part of Dr. Falke, the "Fledermaus" of the title, was well-played by baritone Pavel Klecka, who gave his character just enough edge to make his desire for revenge believable. Bass-baritone Marian Rehor made a fine co-conspirator, prison warden, and Chevalier Chagrin.

Jaromir Novotny in a too-tight vest played a farcical Alfred, the tenor who won't stop singing. Though the character's singing is a running joke among the others, the joke does not conceal Novotny's fine lyric tenor.

The diminutive mezzo-soprano Viara Zhelezova, in a role often given to women, played a fey and blase Prince Orlovsky, playing host to the ball, dictating its rules and leading the praise of King Champagne. She and a dance partner also turn in a graceful performance as they led the waltz near the second act's close.

The third act opened with veteran Bulgarian actor Gueorgui Dinev in an old coat, beret and boots as the slivovitz-addled Frosch (German "Frog") in an extended comic interlude. The audience broke into applause as he kick-started an imaginary (and anachronistic) motorcycle and putt-putted offstage.

Martin Mazik conducted the Sofia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The orchestra of 30 was the best heard in a Lied Center opera in several years, while the chorus filled every inch of the house with sound, especially in the big second-act numbers in praise of love and wine, brotherhood and sisterhood.

Director Otova was also responsible for sets, costumes and light design. A series of arched windows served equally well for the Eisensteins' home and Prince Orlovsky's villa, while the third act's jail was suitably drab. Yards of bright taffeta and tulle conveyed the costumed splendor of the Prince's ball, and the 16-voice chorus, joined by dancers from the Bulgarian Ballet Arabesk, filled the stage with music and movement. Colloquial supertitles (example: "stuttering goofball" to describe Jiri Kubik's Blinde) kept the audience engaged in the dialogue.

At evening's end, a well-filled house, still energized after nearly three hours, kept the cast for third and fourth bows.

- Dean Bevan is a professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at bevan@ku.edu.

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