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Tucson Weekly Return Of The Bat

'Die Fledermaus' Is Back.

By Margaret Regan

NOVEMBER 16, 1998:  DIE FLEDERMAUS IS the work of the man who composed one of the most beloved pieces of dance music ever written, the Blue Danube. So it's no surprise that when Johann Strauss the Younger turned to operetta, he filled his Fledermaus, a frothy story of liaisons and mistaken identities, with lovely waltzes.

"I love this opera," says Susan Wallin, a coloratura soprano who takes the role of the saucy chambermaid Adele in this weekend's Arizona Opera production. "It's fun, it's lighthearted, it has lots of waltzes. In the cast we have a great time."

That robust good humor was much in evidence at a rehearsal last week. The practice stage in the company's re-modeled supermarket was set with gilded chairs and cut-glass goblets, hinting at the operetta's setting in Venice, in the declining days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Working on the party scene from the end of Act II, under the eye of stage director James McNamara and the ear of musical director John Webber, three couples were gliding across the floor, singing merrily as they waltzed. Wallin's character Adele, who attends the forbidden party in disguise, pounced on one of the men, flirtatiously demanding in her high voice, "Are you afraid?"

"Because it's a comedy, it's done so much in English over here," Wallin said later during a break. Even though the Arizona Opera production is in English, surtitles will be flashed above the stage to help the audience along with the words. Despite the bubbly subject matter--the ne'er do well Prince Orlofsky (Suzanne DuPlantis) even sings a toast to champagne--the singing parts are still challenging. Wallin said that the higher she goes in her notes, the more difficult the diction becomes. And Adele goes very high indeed in the famous laughing aria of the second act.

Adele's partner, the Prince, was written by Strauss for a woman's mezzo-soprano. Played traditionally by a woman in man's clothing, a "pants role," Wallin calls it, the gender-bending Orlofsky was intended by Strauss as the epitome of aristocratic decadence. DuPlantis, as the Prince, makes her Arizona Opera debut, as do tenor Benoit Boutet as Eisenstein, soprano Pamela Hicks as his wife, Rosalinda, and Douglas Wunsch as Rosalinda's lover. Arizona Opera regular Benjamin Sorenson appears as Dr. Falke, who once upon a time was forced by Eisenstein to go home from a party dressed as a bat (fledermaus). It's his revenge for this prank that gets the sublimely silly story going.

Wallin, who lives in Dayton, sang Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Despina in Cosi fan tutte, in Arizona Opera productions of recent seasons. Since it's an operetta, Die Fledermaus is not double-cast, and Wallin said the singers must take particular care with their voices with the three concerts back-to-back this weekend in Tucson, and four concerts in Phoenix the next. Indeed, during last week's rehearsal, DuPlantis had her throat carefully swathed in a scarf against the chill.

The extra practice time allotted performers under the new regime of general director David Speers helps. Coming from moist Ohio, where she runs a vocal academy, Wallin said, "It takes me about a week to adjust to the dryness here. It takes me that long to get enough fluid in my body...Now we have more rehearsal time. It used to be about a week and a half. Now we have three weeks."

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