La Chauve-Souris is a production like no other you’ll see in L’Opéra de Montreal’s 2012-2013 season. In fact, this is no ordinary opera at all, it is an operetta. Lighter and more whimsical than an opera, it is staged in a style more akin to musical theatre than to a traditional operatic performance.
Die Fledermaus is an operetta with a long history of varying interpretations; this version comes to us via Canadian stage director Oriol Thomas. Set in Westmount in the 1930’s and performed in French with English interjections; this adaptation was clearly meant just for us Montrealers.
La Chauve-Souris is a tale of revenge set in motion by Docteur Falke (Dominique Côté, Baritone) the “bat” himself. In the wake of a night of debauchery Falke was left to wander Montreal in a bat costume, and now he seeks to exact his revenge against his friend and the culprit of this prank Gabriel (Marc Hervieux, Tenor).
When Gabriel is sentenced to jail for eight days, Falke sets in motion his elaborate plan to teach his friend a lesson in humility. On the night Gabriel is to be incarcerated, Falke appears with a very tempting offer. Thoroughly enticed, Gabriel agrees to sneak out on his wife and attend Prince Orlofsky’s (Emma Parkinson, Mezzo-Soprano) grand and very decadent ball. Unbeknownst to him, both his wife and chambermaid have received the same offer to attend this masquerade ball.
Rosaline (Caroline Bleau, Soprano) is disheartened that she will be without her husband for eight days, but her would be lover Alfred (Thomas Macleay, Tenor) seizes this opportunity to try and woo her in her home. A case of mistaken identity is what lands him in jail in Gabriel’s place. Meanwhile the chambermaid Adele (Marianne Lambert, Soprano) has woven a tale of woe and gotten herself excused for the night so she too can secretly attend the ball. As the events unfold leading to the humiliation that Gabriel must suffer in return for his prank against Falke, the audience is taken on a comical journey through the pratfalls of an indulgent and colourful cast of characters.
Set in three acts, I must admit I found the production dragging a little. Specifically the second act which takes place at the masquerade ball, and which goes on at length despite not being nearly as comically on par with act three. While aware of the lighthearted comical approach taken in the telling of this tale, its full comedic abilities shine with the introduction of the brilliant Frosch (Martin Drainville, actor), the drunken jailer. Set in the prison warden’s office, act three of La Chauve-Souris had the audience laughing from beginning to end and suddenly made clear the intent of the entire production. Making it a bit of a shame that, up until that point, it felt as though this operetta could not fully commit to either drama or comedy.
Though I prefer a straighter more traditional opera, L’OdM’s La Chauve-Souris is a great opportunity for those who love theatre to branch off and see what opera is about. To those for whom opera is a way of life, get ready for some cheeky cultural references and a tongue and cheek attitude that can only be described as, well, Gangnam style.