Operettas are a rare treat for an opera company. They are a chance to go outside the confines of tradition, really let loose upon a play and have a merry time with music. But they are also blisteringly difficult to do well, precisely because they straddle the line between opera and straight play down to the tiniest hair. The best of the genre embrace both sides of their legacy with open arms, even at times mocking the intersection between the two genres. But it is that careful navigation that makes or breaks an operetta.
Due to travel complications, I was not able to see Mock Crest Productions’ take on Die Fledermaus opening weekend. Instead, I attended the show (with a press pass, gotta be honest) on June 15th, and was immediately struck by the 1920’s theme of the show. This was not just because it was incredibly appropriate but because of how closely it mimics Baz Luhrmann’s recent take on The Great Gatsby. But the cast was completely at ease within the set and costumes, putting even my doubts about the modern English take on the libretto at rest.
Without a doubt, the singer of the night was Catherine Olson. She was not only one of the most clear and lovely voices on the stage, but she is a rare treat in that she is also a compelling actor to watch. Also of note was Thomas Prislac, who gave a role that could have been dismissed (a prison governor) style and weight. His brief moments singing with Gabriel von Eisenstein (played with Gatsby-like panache by Wesley Morgan) were some of the most beautiful musical moments in the production.
That is indeed the problem with Die Fledermaus: As an operetta, the music and the acting must be equal in strength. Among the leads, it felt like hardly anyone knew what to do during the moments of straight drama. They’re all brilliant singers, but that translates dialogue scenes feeling like a sudden brake slam taken to avoid a speeding ticket. One of the worst offenders was Lindsey Cafferty, cast as the wily and amorous Rosalinde. Her acting did not even begin to match her beautiful (and prominent) voice, and her scenes suffered as a result.
But then I saw her in Act 2. As the disguised Countess, Cafferky was… lovely. She was seductive, and a perfect diva. That’s when I realized, this lady is not meant to play stock characters. She is meant to play beautiful, deep characters that change and progress over time. Her warble positively demands it. As a single-minded Colombina, she falls flat.
Overall, this production is a disappointment. The singers are so clearly talented, but they have no idea what to do in this show. Is it a straight play, or is it an opera? The show feels segmented, with the opera performers literally switching voices depending on the scene. They are all talented, but Die Fledermaus does nothing for them. And dear bats and butterflies, it is a shame.