Saturday evening's Wichita Grand Opera production of Johann Strauss Jr.'s operetta Die Fledermaus, presented in English in the Century II concert hall, was a whimsical delight. Revered for his popular dance pieces, Strauss, “The Waltz King,” wrote many operettas and this one, which had its premiere in 1874, is his most enduring.
While some of the beauty of the music can't help but be subtly affected by translation from the original German into English, the translation allowed the audience to have a more-immediate experience of the funny and convoluted plot than a performance with subtitles would afford. The performance in English also allowed freedom for improvised one-liners and local references that the audience enjoyed.
Michael Nansel was a delight in the dual roles as Prince Orlofsy and Frosch the jailer. His timing and comic abilities were highlighted in his depiction of the jailer. The entire cast turned in strong performances. As the chamber maid Adele, Emily Truckenbrod was particularly moving in her coquettish aria at the ball in Act II. Mary-Jane Lee has a beautiful upper range and she particularly shone in Act III. The dueling friends Gabriel Von Eisenstein, played by Michael Hayes, and Dr. Falke, played by David Settle, were strong if not compelling. Their singing was strong and attractive, but their characters were not strongly projected. The chorus provided a spirited presence at ball in Act II, singing and dancing with precision.
In an unexplained substitution for Whitney Reader, conductor Curtis Tucker provided clear leadership and coordination with the stage. The orchestral playing was largely good although the violin tone was harsh. Balance between the orchestra and singers was excellent and the brass and wind colors were beautiful. In the second act the pitch of the orchestra had become so sharp it clashed with the fixed pitch of the glockenspiel; in the final act tuning was better.
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In this production stage director James McNamara made good on his mission to introduce more Americans to opera. The Wichita Grand Opera performance of Die Fledermaus allowed the audience to experience art as accessible, vital and engaging.