Bats Make Noise at UMass School of Music: A Review of “Die Fledermaus”

The UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance presented an exciting, fully staged student performance of the operetta: Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

Driving up to Amherst for Die Fledermaus on Monday, May 3rd (the day after one of those milestone birthdays you would rather forget) was such a beautiful drive that I forgot about my own situation. Due to the number of quality singers, UMass decided to make the production a double cast. I was present for the rehearsal of Act 1, twice, and was able to see both casts perform. Truly, I was amazed by the excellence of the singing, the almost acrobatic dancing and the seemingly difficult stage movement that the young performers achieved.

Plot of Die Fledermaus:

Act 1 takes place in the drawing room of Gabriel von Eisenstein. The maid, Adele, has received a letter from her sister, Ida, inviting her to a ball at the palace of Prince Orlofsky. Meanwhile Alfred, the Italian tenor, is serenading Rosalinde, Herr Eisenstein’s wife, from outside a window. Herr Eisenstein enters upset because his jail sentence of five days for insulting an Imperial Magistrate has been extended to eight days, due to the incompetency of his lawyer, Dr. Blind. Herr Eisenstein’s best friend, Dr. Falke, enters and encourages Eisenstein to join him at the Prince Orlofsky ball. After the men leave, Rosalinde dismisses Adele and meets privately with Alfred, her former boyfriend. The prison director, Frank, enters and finds Rosalinde with “Alfred”, whom he assumes is Rosalinde’s husband and carts him off to jail. Having received an anonymous box with a mask, Rosalinde decides to attend Orlofsky’s ball as a Hungarian countess. Everyone is going to the ball except poor Alfred, the Italian Tenor.

Act 2 is set at the palace of Prince Orlofsky (a role written for a mezzo-soprano). The young prince is bored and sings a famous aria, “Chacun à son gout”, in which he explains that everyone can do as they like in his palace. Dr. Falke promises Prince Orlofsky a good time with a comedy that he has arranged. He explains that three years ago he and his friend, Eisenstein, attended a costume ball in which he (Falke) drank too much. Eisenstein left him asleep on a park bench, so the next morning he had to walk home in his bat costume to the ridicule of the passersby. Tonight, Dr. Falke will have his “revenge of the bat”. The characters come in one by one and pretend not to know each other. Eisenstein does not recognize his wife as the Hungarian Countess and flirts with her. Both Eisenstein and Frank leave for jail when the clock strikes six.

Act 3 opens with the jailor, Frosch, a speaking part. This role is usually given to a great local actor or comedian. In this case, the legendary Walter Carroll, actor and Public Radio Host for WFCR in Amherst, MA, played the role of Frosch (quite superbly I might add, as he wittily delivered many funny lines). All the characters show up at the jail, all is revealed or unmasked, and all join in the grand waltz finale. The Bat (Dr. Falke) has had his revenge on Herr Eisenstein.

The story line is ridiculously silly and I suppose it was meant to be. But it is the music composed by the waltz king, Johann Strauss, JR., that elevates this operetta to such an endearing place in the heart.

About the production:

Die Fledermaus was performed in an English adaptation from the original German by Faculty Professor Vernon Hartman, a noted baritone who sang for 20 years at the Metropolitan Opera and around the world. I found Mr. Hartman’s adaptation well done and easy to comprehend. His translation kept the flavor of a bygone era, yet was cleverly sprinkled with funny anachronisms that made the audience laugh.

The props were few, but sufficient; enough to capture the atmosphere of the scenes. The production used only a baby grand piano, played beautifully by Jill Brunelle. During the overture, both Ms. Brunelle and Maestro Franco Marcelletti, Jr., a faculty professor, played the piano together. Marcelletti, Jr. was fairly comical himself, as he bounced up and down on the piano seat as if his whole body was keeping beat to the music.

The Opera Singers:

Greg Tufts as Herr Eisenstein did a good job handling the role. His acting was delivered most successfully with his entire body as he moved quite well and he displayed a lovely voice. Jenna Gould as Rosalinde not only looked the part, dressed the part, and acted the part, but her voice was exciting as well. Like Mr. Tufts, if she continues to study and develop her voice, I think they both will have wonderful opera careers. Joseph Beckwith as Dr. Falke, the vengeful bat in Die Fledermaus once again displayed his large and beautiful baritone voice. Alfred (played by Bor Liang Lin), spoke loudly with a very bad Italian accent (on purpose). Personally, I appreciated the way Mr. Lin inserted just tidbits of arias in his dialogue. For instance, as he was led off to jail, he said Addio to Rosalinde and then broke into “Addio, fiorito asil…” from Butterfly. (I recognized all but one aria fragment that he sang – Darn! I should have recognized them all.)

A few more honorable mentions: Prince Orlofsky was played by Kate Saik, who did a fine job as the Prince in her travesti role. Dr. Blind, the attorney who stuttered and couldn’t win a case, was played by Ronald Vorce. During his role in the 3rd act, his glasses fell off. While Eisenstein and Rosalinde were arguing in a musical duet, Dr. Blind was crawling all over one side of the stage looking “blindly” for his glass frames. I think he almost stole the moment without uttering a sound. Mr. Vorce may have a great opportunity in comic operas. Uriah Rodriguez handled the role of Frank, the jail warden, very well. His “French” duet in act 2 with Herr Eisenstein was a riot. Adele (Rachel Hanauer in Acts 1 and 2) and (Susan Dillard in Act 3) both displayed fine singing and acting, though with different styles. Ms. Hanauer sang coquettishly while Ms. Dillard sounded more robust. Ida, Lisa Digiusto, looked lovely as a ballerina and Adele’s sister. She blended beautifully in the duets with Adele.

Die Fledermaus was a great student production that had the audience in hysterics and left with a feeling of complete operatic satisfaction. All week long I have been humming the tunes from Die Fledermaus. Toi, Toi (opera talk for good luck) to all of the students who performed.

What will UMass perform next year? I, for one, look forward to their next season and encourage any opera enthusiast to see opera at UMass-Amherst. For a seasoned opera fanatic, I found UMass opera to be very refreshing and just plain fun!