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The Maus that roared 

Last week's Opera Carolina production of Strauss's Die Fledermaus had many ingratiating ingredients. A pair of coloratura sopranos -- one of them, Judit Lorincz, making her U.S. debut and eager to please. A profusion of male actor singers, all willing to travel the hambone road to comedy. Most fundamental of all, OC's Maus had a serviceable Ruth & Thomas Martin translation of the original German libretto -- fortified by supertitles projected above -- that usually survived all attempts to strangle or mangle it.

Of course, it also had a fair portion of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William Boggs. I wish a few more CSO players could have been crammed into the pit -- the overture and other familiar tunes sounded a tad underpowered at times -- but all entered the waltz world of Johann the Younger with the requisite frolicsome spirit-2-3.

Blasting out a medley of Italian opera faves as Alfredo, you could easily forgive tenor Israel Lozano for his misadventures in English -- his wisecrack about sitting out Act 2 certainly came through clearly enough. Robin Follman as Rosalinda, however, did not respond as wholeheartedly to stage director Bill Fabris's ministrations -- or with sufficient comedy to Alfredo's. But my, when this soprano sang, she conquered.

James Taylor as Rosalinda's wayward husband, Gabriel von Eisenstein, had a cheery verve to his acting and singing though his voice wasn't as exemplary as Lozano's. That worked well with the plotline here, since Alfredo is supposed to be an operatic Lothario with a knee-buckling voice. Likewise, Rosalinda's coolness made Gabriel's attempted escapade more forgivable.

Deeper into the cast, results were dicier. I liked Dan Boye's worldly way with the vengeance he exacts from Eisenstein, but he was out of his depth vocally in the gorgeous "Bruderlein" in Act 2. In the problematic role of Prince Orlovsky, written for a mezzo with a saucy wink at the audience, Gloria Prince was humorless beyond the call of comedy. As the master of the revels where all the romantic intrigues unwind, her uptempo "Chacun a son gout" pretty much staled the bubbles of the champagne.

But Lorincz had effervescence to burn as Adele, the Eisenstein's maidservant and party animal. The character is a risk-taker, cheeking out her master's instant recognition at Orlovsky's soiree, and Lorincz's coloratura arias had the bubbly recklessness needed to make them clink. Keith Jurosko earned king-of-comedy honors in a couple of bit roles ñ first doddering across the stage as Orlovsky's 105-year-old voice teacher, then reappearing in a spanning-the-globe mustache as the inebriated Jailer of Act 3.

Kudos to Opera Carolina for starting the show promptly at 7:30 p.m. -- without any blather about the newly-announced 2008-09 season. Let me reward that cavalier confidence by informing you that OC will present the Figaro operas in their proper sequence, with Rossini's Barber of Seville slated for next January and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro following in March. Gounod's Faust opens the season in October, and Puccini's Turandot will close it in April.

Stop the presses! Spring fever has finally struck ImaginOn. Despite all the toys, exhibits and miscellaneous eye-candy indoors -- and the sleek Lynx transit ready to deposit anklebiters at the entrance -- last Saturday's matinee of The Nightingale at Wachovia Playhouse was most notable for its absentees.

Certainly the show, mischievously adapted by Aaron Moore and director Nicia Carla from the Hans Christian Andersen tale, is brimming with comedy, beauty and Tarradiddle charm. All the cast are current or past members of Children's Theatre's vaunted traveling troupe, so all have a knack of connecting with toddler audiences. But only if they're nearby.

Darlene Parker Black, discreetly aided by costume designer Courtney Scott, is magnificence itself as the Emperor of China. And Stephen Seay as Feng, the Emp's officious advisor, makes sure we know it: Whenever the Emp rises from his throne, we must call out, "The Emperor is great!" Woe unto us if we don't.

Ashby Blakely draws the title role, not necessarily the long straw here, since the gloriously singing bird isn't endowed by his creator with extensive dialogue -- though his flying, simulated by silks, has a certain lyrical excess. Blakely scrounges for his laughs among a few brief cameos, including a court physician and an army gargoyle. Leslie Ann Giles has a far more fruitful run at the comedy scraps, appearing as a farmer, a steward, a watchmaker, and -- heaven help her -- a music critic.

Giles's key role is as the Kitchen Maid who introduces the starchy Feng and the lavishly spoiled Emperor to the simple beauty of the nightingale. It is the Maid's role to counterbalance the imperial arrogance of the Chinese Royal Court with wholesome American openness and democracy, devalued as they may be at the moment outside ImaginOn.

The show is a beautiful, joyous 45-minute lark. It's preceded by a delicious little music lesson, introducing members of the wind and brass families, from Charlotte Symphony trombonist Thomas Burge. That's why you'll see that flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and tuba onstage as you enter.

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