Performance review: Randle Aubrey on San Jose Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus

Thanksgiving is an awkward holiday. Being a reasonably well-educated, inquisitive American, I’ve been more than aware for some time now of the true story of Europe’s bloody occupation of the New World, from the initial “colonization” efforts by the Spanish in Central America to the near-extinction of Indigenous Peoples through the hostile actions of an imperialist American agenda. If there’s anything we should be thankful for, it’s the fact that there’s not enough of them left to stage a bloody uprising and take back what is rightfully theirs.

Now before you start foaming at the mouth and plunking out some ridiculous diatribe about what a hateful, racist bastard I am, hear me out. Imagine if you lived in a time and place where a race of people your budding nation felt they had the God-given right to force out of their land, rape, murder, pillage, lie, cheat and steal from decided they had had enough of your bullshit and rose up in the tens if not hundreds of thousands and return the bloody favor? In the reality that is our present world, bloodthirsty savages aren’t likely to bust down my front door at any moment, drag myself and my loved ones out into the street, and chop off their scalps while leaving the bodies in the street as a warning to potential future residents of my apartment that they better check their skin tone before signing the lease, and yes I am thankful for that, thank you very much. Most of us have it pretty good in this country, compared to the millions of Native Americans that were slaughtered to forge this nation, and the tiny population that remains in the squalid, horrifying conditions we have afforded them.

Needless to say, this isn’t exactly the best Thanksgiving dinner conversation, or the greatest context under which to talk about an opera. But as my deadline looms and yet another Thanksgiving Day draws to a close, I can’t help but wonder which traditions are worth the time of honoring: the entire sum of those of a nearly extinct race of people slaughtered at the hands of my ancestors, or those of a comparatively tiny, yet culturally significant subset of Western classical music?

San Jose Opera’s rendition of “Die Fledermaus” was wonderful, of course. They’re not ones to screw around with a production. The hair, makeup and costumes were top notch, and the set involved a simple backdrop that was easy to transform with a few props and set pieces into the various locations in the plot. And of course, the performances were marvelous. Elisabeth Ross positively stole the show as Adele, and Rebecca Krauner’s rendition of Prince Orlofsky was both sublime and ridiculous. Alexander Boyer gave a commanding performance as Eisenstein, bringing a Ralph Kramden-esque demeanor to the role, with Cecelia Violetta Lopez’s portrayal Rosalinde every bit the Alice, with a touch of Lucille Ball thrown in for good measure. Round out the lineup with devilish performances from Michael Bailey (Alfred), Jo Vincent Parks (Dr. Falke), Isaiah Musik-Ayala (Frank), and Michael Mendelsohn (Dr. Blind), and you’ve got yourself one hell of a show on your hands: it’s campy, absurd, and elegant, old-world sentiment mixed with classic screwball Broadway antics. My first operatic experience, I’m glad I got to witness something so fun and light, rather than inaugurated via tragedies such as “La Traviata” or “Carmen”. Not that I’m not one for heavy subject matter – my most recent read, “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers, left me both breathless and achingly unfulfilled – but comedy often brings more to the table than just laughs: it brings happy endings, which have enormous potential to hold the attention of a wide body of philistines like myself, who are thankful to have the opportunity to not only do so at the behest of their cohorts, but to then have the opportunity to spit out a few hundred words upon the subject for publications such as this one. Let us not also forget that at the heart of this story lies a crooked and immoral investment banker who is allowed to skip a portion of his incredibly lenient prison sentence just to be the victim of a ridiculously overpriced prank(likely at the expense of an underprivileged populace), one perpetrated by the highest annals of both Swiss and Russian governments, all to satisfy the petty vengeance of the clearly defunct shrink (physician, heal thyself!) with which this banker had an incredibly unprofessional and obviously destructive relationship. Let us all be thankful that we don’t live in such an imperialist society dominated by such petty squabbles, shall we?

Hold on a second…