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Casting Die Fledermaus with Wagnerians

By Speight Jenkins

Presenting Die Fledermaus again had never occurred to me until after the success of the 2004 production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Another opera had been slotted for January of 2006, but it was proving unfeasible for a variety of reasons. I had always known in my personal contact with Jane Eaglen that she was very funny and had a marvelous sense of humor, very different from but quite as remarkable as the one possessed by her great Wagnerian predecessor, Birgit Nilsson. Whether this would transfer to the stage had not been proved to me until her sudden assumption of the role of Ariadne. Taking on the role less than a week before the opening, she not only learned the part in German and sang it marvelously but grasped Chris Alexander’s concept completely and made her performance both funny and moving.

With the need to change the January 2006 opera and Jane Eaglen’s Ariadne firmly in mind, it occurred to me that Rosalinda would be a role well suited to her voice. Though no heroic soprano in my experience had ever sung the part, Jane Eaglen has often exhibited in Mozart, Puccini and Bellini as well Wagner her technique and capacity for both florid and lyrical singing. I thought that if I could put together the combination that had made Ariadne a success—Alexander as director and the Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz as conductor—it could be quite interesting.

After I found out the availability of the conductor and director, I broached the subject to Jane who was more than willing. She loves the music of Rosalinde and has often wanted to sing the part. With her on board it was necessary to find others who would balance her voice and presence. So came about a Fledermaus with a surprising number of Wagner singers. Our two major Ring tenors last summer—Alan Woodrow, our Siegfried, and Richard Berkeley-Steele, our Siegmund—had both had experience in their two parts. Berkeley-Steele has sung Gabriel von Eisenstein more than a few times in Germany; his acting ability would be, I thought, ideal for the bumbling hero of Johann Strauss’ operetta. Alan Woodrow in his days as a tenor for the English National Opera sang quite a few Alfreds and was happy to sing the role as long as he could sing some Wagner when Alfred is practicing on his voice in Act III. Nancy Maultsby had earlier told me that she would love sometime to portray Orlofksy, and as she and Jane have worked with great success in many different operas, she seemed perfect for the part.

As far as Adele went, I felt that here we should move to more traditional casting, and I was happy to enlist the talents of one of former Young Artists, Sarah Coburn, whose career has skyrocketed since she left our program. Just last summer, her performances as Lucie, in the French version of the Donizetti opera, captivated the audiences at the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York.

Two other important cast members are Dr. Falke who conceives the whole plot (and in the second act begins one of the most exquisitely beautiful ensembles every composed) and the jailor Frank who has no aria but has crucial duets and trios of which he is a part. Christopher Feigum and Grant Neale proved the right fit for these parts.

With Maestro Schwarz, born and bred into Viennese music, and Alexander, a director whose background has included a tremendous number of successful comedies, it seemed to me that we had and have the ingredients for a memorable and delightful Die Fledermaus.