It's been a scant seven seasons since the Lyric Opera of Chicago last presented "Die Fledermaus" (aka "The Bat"), the ever-popular 1874 Viennese comic operetta by Johann Strass Jr. The fact that the Lyric has also engaged three performers (and the same choreographer) from its former "Fledermaus" to duplicate their exact same duties for this revival might not be enough of an enticement for Lyric audiences with longtime memories to return.
But to dismiss the latest "Die Fledermaus" on these points alone would be a mistake. Thanks to a lot of clever importation practices, the Lyric's "Die Fledermaus" is all but guaranteed to plaster a smile on your face throughout its enjoyable 3˝ hour running time.
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"Die Fledermaus"★ ★ ★ ˝
Location: Lyric Opera of Chicago at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, (312) 332-2244 or lyricopera.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 16, 18, 21 and Jan. 18; 2 p.m. Jan. 10, 12, 15
Running time: About three hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions
Parking: Area pay garages
Rating: For general audiences
Much of what makes this comic chestnut so tasty is a slew of native German-speaking singers (many making their Lyric debut) who enliven the proceedings with a breezy air of continental authenticity.
As the scheming parlormaid Adele, Austrian soprano Daniela Fally is an all-around comic spitfire, being able to dash off high-notes and execute the splits with plenty of deceptive ease (she also spars well with American mezzo-soprano Julie Anne Miller as her rivalrous sister, Ida).
Baritone Adrian Eröd is another beneficial Austrian import, making for an elegantly suave Dr. False, who sets the operetta's comic revenge plot in motion for the enjoyment of the ennui-filled Prince Orolfsky (an enjoyably dismissive Emily Fons in a mezzo-soprano trouser role) and his bevy of joy-loving party guests.
Not quite as effective is German soprano Juliane Banse as the leading lady Rosalinde von Eisenstein. Though Banse properly hits all the proper notes, her low plummy sound and her subdued characterization makes her Rosalinde come off as matronly rather than a young and adventurous housewife who can barely resist the charms of her intruding ex-lover, an Italian tenor named Alfred (the ardent American tenor Michael Spyres).
Luckily, the trio of returning "Fledermaus" cast members are still in top form. Danish baritone Bo Skovhus shows once again why opera companies continually engage him as the handsome philandering husband Gabriel von Eisenstein. Not only is Skovhus vocally robust, but also his comic timing is spot-on (even if the projected English translations sometimes give away the punchlines before the performers finish speaking out the jokes in German).
Returning British baritone Andrew Shore is great again as the jail warden Frank (particularly when posing as a phony Frenchman), as is the returning Chicago actor Fred A. Wellisch as the drunken jailer Frosch (the audience lapped up his Act III asides filled with modern-day name-dropping).
Choreographer Daniel Pelzig's Act II dances are a vast improvement over his former "Fledermaus" work, particularly since he found ways to insinuate most of the leading characters into the series of rousing polkas and waltzes.
Director E. Loren Meeker mingles the new-to-Chicago cast with returning veterans extremely well, and the effect is a consistently effervescent concoction that sparkles like a vintage champagne. Conductor Ward Stare leading the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra also lends a fizzy and propulsive snap to the proceedings, too.
The production's imported and very traditional packaging is also a bonus. Instead of trotting out its own previous "Fledermaus" physical production, the Lyric has borrowed the gorgeous sets and costumes from San Francisco Opera's 2006 staging.
The late set designer Wolfram Skalicki deployed a dimensional and comic ink cross-thatch look about the nouveau rich Eisenstein household in Act I, which gives way to a monumental 19th-century grandeur for the raucous Act II party scene. Even the Act III jail is gorgeous because of its soaring glass and steel skylight. The colorful period costumes by designer Thierry Bosquet also were an eye-popping delight to behold.
So you really shouldn't have doubts about getting all dolled up again for yet another outing with Strauss' carefree partyers and philandering pranksters. The Lyric's sparkling revival of "Die Fledermaus" affirms the work's solid reputation as one of the few comic operettas to crack a well-deserved place in the world's standard operatic repertory.