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Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)

The Rose of Stambul

Written by Leo Fall
Directed by Kathryn Kamp
Conducted by John Frantzen 
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
thru July 31  | tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets

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Decades later, a Viennese opera receives a proper premiere


Wedding Ensemble - Rose of Stambul Chicago 2

Chicago Folks Operetta presents


The Rose of Stambul

Review by Keith Ecker 

In 1922, American audiences were treated to a heavily altered version of the popular Viennese opera The Rose of Stambul. Originally written in 1916 by Leo Fall during the height of European fascination with the Ottoman Empire, the opera’s American version was changed to presumably better cater to American tastes. And by that I mean that it was transformed from a sophisticated opera into a base musical. Finally, after nearly a century, The Rose of Stambul is getting its proper American premier courtesy of Chicago Folks Operetta. And the end result is a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style piece that incorporates the rich classical music of an opera and the pedestrian humor of a musical.

Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)
Produced in the relatively small Chopin Theatre space, the Chicago Folks Operetta production has been translated into the English vernacular by company members Hersh Glagov and Gerald Frantzen. I am not familiar with the original work, so I am not able to comment on how closely the translation reflects the Viennese version. But, for what it is worth, the German man sitting to my left, who has seen the opera five times in Europe, expressed his surprise at how well the charm of the original was retained. Also surprising is the ability of the translators to not only stick to the script but to weave in rhyme throughout.

The laughably Eurocentric opera focuses on two young Turkish aristocrats and their male paramours. The main plot concerns the lovely Kondja Gul (played by Kimberly McCord in the production I saw, though also played by Desiree Hassler). Kondja is in love with European novelist Andre Levy, a man she has never met. She writes a passionate letter to him professing her love. To her dismay, her father (Chris Guerra, doing his best George Takei impression) has arranged for her to marry Achmed Bey (played by Gerald Frantzen in the production I saw, though also played by Javier Bernardo). What Kondja doesn’t know, however, is that Andre Levy is actually a nom de plume for Achmed. And thus the dramatic irony begins.

Simultaneously, Kondja’s friend Midili (Alison Kelly) wishes to leave the shuttered harem life led by Turkish women and marry her European lover Fridolin (Erich Buchholz). Fridolin devises a cockamamie plan to dress as a woman and sneak Midili out of the harem. In addition, Fridolin’s wealthy businessman father is embroiled in a lawsuit that will only be resolved once one of the parties bears a male heir. This means the pressure is on for Fridolin to become a father.

Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)
The orchestra, conducted by John Frantzen, does a wonderful job bringing to life the authentic marches and waltzes of turn-of-the-century Europe. The genteel sounds of clarinets and violins perfectly underscore the daintiness of the Turkish ladies, who envy the liberated European woman. Instrumentation is crisp and balanced, never overpowering or overshadowing the performers. And Frantzen is an excellent sport when he is required to take center stage in a hilarious scene in the third act.

McCord’s vocal talents reflect a seasoned singer who has skillful vocal control. Though not as strong vocally as other operatic female leads I have seen, she still manages to achieve intense highs and heartfelt lows in her vocal energy. Frantzen has the strongest voice in the cast, a fact that is especially noticeable with the title song "The Rose of Stambul." Meanwhile, Buchholz makes for an extraordinarily entertaining comic relief. His manic drag performance during "A Ballerina Named Lilly" is a riot.

If you are a newcomer to opera, The Rose of Stambul is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with the art form. The English vernacular makes the work easy to understand, and the comedy is of the Marx Brothers variety. Sure, the Chopin doesn’t have the glitzy appeal of the Lyric, but that doesn’t mean this small-scale production doesn’t pack a big punch. It may have taken nearly 100 years, but The Rose of Stambul has finally sprouted in America.


Rating: ★★★½


Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)

Chicago Folks Operetta’sThe Rose of Stambul continues through July 31st at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $30-$35, and can be purchased online. More information at

All photos by Desiree Hassler




Aaron Benham, Javier Bernardo, Sarah Bockel, Erich Buchholz, Sarah Bockel, Eric Casady, Gerald Frantzen, Christopher Guerra, Desirée Hassler, Nicole Hill, Alison Kelly, Kimberly McCord, Robert Morrissey, Khaki Pixely, Malia Ropp, Julia Tarlo, Pam Williams

behind the scenes

Kathryn Kamp (Director); John Frantzen (Conductor); Julian Pike (Lighting Designer); Joe Schermoly (Set Designer/Technical Director); Kristine Fachet (Costume Designer); August Tye (Choreographer); Rose Freeman (Stage Manager); Dennis Northway (Coach/Rehearsal Pianist); Anatoliy Torchinskiy (Rehearsal Pianist); Desiree Hassler (photos)


Brian Beach, Michael Daniels, Katherine Nielsen, Benjamin Kulp, Tipmothy Hager, Matt Cataldi, Lilliana Wosko, Rachel Brown, Allison Gessner, Carl Schulte, Zsolt Szabo, Andy Frickle, Kristan Alfredson, Hersh Glagov, Elizabeth Johnson, Kelly King, Weldon Anderson, John Tuck, Bill Olsen, Anna Najoom, Jenny Jung


Review: The Rose of Stambul (Chicago Folks Operetta)


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