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Virginia Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ marks return to familiar

By Charles T. Downey,

The Virginia Opera’s 2011-12 season was marked by daring programming and innovative staging, a gutsy move for a company that has just undergone a crisis in leadership. But it was a short-lived experiment. After an unsuccessful attempt to get a new company off the ground, ousted artistic director Peter Mark was welcomed back into the Virginia Opera fold last month, with the company even agreeing to mount the productions Mark had planned for the coming year. The move seals the Virginia Opera’s return to a more conservative strategy, a shift borne out by its latest production, Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus,” seen Friday night at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts.

This evergreen operetta has its appeal, played for all of its champagne-cork-popping effect in an effervescent, even manic staging by Dorothy Danner, revived from 2006. The cast, more satisfactory than striking, went with the antics physically but did not always deliver vocally, including the overextended Rosalinde of soprano Emily Pulley and baritone Philip Cutlip’s Eisenstein, cracking at the top of the role by the end. Tenor Ryan MacPherson hammed it up as an Italian aria-crooning Alfred, and mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims chewed the scenery with a thick Russian accent as Count Orlovsky. Soprano Sarah Jane McMahon was a pretty Adele, matched by Christopher Burchett’s cutting Dr. Falke and a veteran turn by Jake Gardner as Frank. It was telling that it was so easy for actor Grant Neale to steal the show as the drunken jail guard Frosch in the third act.

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow nearly lost control of the polka in Act II, but his often-frantic gestures mostly held together a fine reading of the score by members of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. It makes perfect sense to translate this kind of work into English, although the rhymed doggerel by Ruth and Thomas Martin was perhaps too much. It is hard to blame a company for returning to the familiar in the current economic climate, especially as that is probably what most subscribers and donors want.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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