When I first moved to Chicago, I interviewed to be a bartender at the Lyric Opera. During the process, I was asked about my favorite opera. I admitted that I had never been to the opera but I enjoyed the music in movies like “Philadelphia.” Well, despite my lack of musical panache, I got the job in the swankiest theatre in Chicago. The best employee perk? I could attend all the season’s dress rehearsals. And so began my lifelong opera appreciation tutorial. Seventeen years later and living in the hometown of the Lyric, Chicago Opera Theatre, and Light Opera Works, I’ve seen close to a hundred operas. This weekend I had my inaugural experience with another local company. Chicago Folks Operetta presents an American premiere THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL. A father arranges his daughter’s marriage to a Turkish diplomat. The devastated daughter is in love with a romance novelist. She ends up married to both… she just doesn’t know it. The groom decides to keep his writing pseudonym hidden and woo his bride as a government employee. As a modern, nineteenth century Turkish woman, the wife insists her husband court her in the European fashion. Hidden identities and imposed chastity, THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL smells like a sweet romance ready to be picked.
Read on AND LISTEN to Audio Podcast at ITUNES Chicago Theatre Reviews for Week of July 22nd Facilitated by Joshua Volkers with Katy Walsh.
Chicago Folks Operetta has dusted off another Viennese composition by Leo Fall and brought it to the States. Apparently, this is the first time in over 85 years THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL is being performed in America. CFO has chosen to showcase the production in the intimate Chopin Theatre. With an intricate set designed by Joe Schermoly, the 19 piece orchestra is housed just behind the wooden lattice backdrop. The action and singing takes place in front of the band. The stage is just a couple of steps away from the front row and not physically separated by height. It’s as close to opera singing as I’ve ever been! What I love about opera is the depth of emotion vocally produced by the complexity of the notes. Opera singers, above all others, sing their hearts, souls, and voices out. The anguish, the lust, the hate, the adoration … it’s all put out there to exhaustion. And at the Chopin, the closeness makes the experience even more personal.
Due to that strenuous level of performance, typically opera singers don’t perform two days in a row. At the bigger houses, like Lyric, the opera is never presented in consecutive days. For THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL, the leads are shared by two couples. For my performance, Javier Bernardo (Achmed) and Desiree Hassler (Kondja) are the passionate non-lovers. An operetta is ‘opera lite.’ It’s less filling, still tastes great! An operetta features spoken dialogue and usually comedic elements. Bernardo arrives at Kondja’s palace with endearing schoolboy playfulness. He doesn’t seem like a leading man. It’s like pairing Desi Arnaz with Lucille Ball. Does it work? As soon as he starts singing any doubts dissipate. Bernardo owns the lead with powerhouse singing. In steamy duets with Bernardo, Hassler creates some palpable sexual tension. With Bernardo’s crooning, how can Kondja put off instead of putting out? Hassler resists his advances with spunk and beautifully sung declarations of love for another. A secondary storyline, Erich Buchholz (Fridolin) and Alison Kelly (Midili) provide a lighthearted marital pairing. The cute couple sings of the challenges of mustache kissing and nickname utilization.
For opera virgins, THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL is an ideal choice. The story and the venue won’t overwhelm. It’s lively. It’s fun. It’s romantic! The costumes are exquisite. There is a vibrant explosion of color as the veiled harem mixes up old-world style with sassy defiance. For seasoned opera-ites, THE ROSE FROM STAMBUL is very Gilbert & Sullivan-esque. The light-frothy premise provides a nice opera fix for the long, hot days of summer.
Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes includes two intermissions
At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Three Act operatta, sung in English
Composed by Leo Fall
Translated by Hersh Glagov and Gerald Frantzen
Conducted by John Frantzen
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru July 31st