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    APRIL 7, 2005
 
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Opera Theater’s ‘Fledermaus’ presented with a 1920s twist

Die Fledermaus
Starring in Temple Opera Theater’s unconventional staging of Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” are (from left) Tatyana Rashovsky, a master’s of music candidate in opera performance, in the role of Rosalinda; Rachel Sutliff, a master’s of music candidate in vocal performance, as Prince Orlovsky; and Mary Wojciechowski, a second-year master’s in music student in vocal performance, as Adele.

If thoughts of opera conjure up images of barrel chests, breastplates and spears, think again. This time, think fishnet stockings and feather boas. Think fun and laughter.

The upcoming Temple Opera Theater production of Die Fledermaus promises to adjust any such preconceived perceptions of what opera is all about.

At the hands of music director and conductor John Douglas, stage director Laura Johnson and producer Jamie Johnson, the Opera Theater’s Fledermaus leapfrogs from 19th-century Vienna to America in the 1920s, somewhere in an uns pecified urban location. Corseted bodices and tuxedoes have given way to a Roaring Twenties, flapper, Prohibition-era look.

“It’s a perfect setting for this lighthearted, comic operetta that is infinitely accessible and audience-friendly,” said Douglas, adding that the entire Temple production, lyrics and dialogue, will be performed in English.

With roots in French farce and the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, a cast of larger-than-life characters, comic plot twists that turn on mistaken identity and disguise, the Die Fledermaus caper takes on an added layer of fun with its 1920s milieu.

Austrian composer Johann Strauss Jr. wrote the operetta (whose title translates to “The Bat”) after making his reputation as Vienna’s Waltz King. Taking on the challenges of scoring a theater production was the next logical step. Di e Fledermaus became Strauss’ first big hit for the stage and served as the inspiration for a whole generation of operetta composers, including Gilbert and Sullivan.

The complicated revenge plot springs from a practical joke that was played on Falke by his friend Eisenstein before the operetta’s action takes place, when, dressed as a bat (hence the title) for a masquerade ball, Falke was left in a drunken sleep on a park bench and forced to suffer the humiliation of finding his way home in broad daylight wearing his bizarre costume.

The motif of a costume ball in Fledermaus provides the perfect platform for further disguise, as well as the inevitable romantic infidelities and plot complications that are the stuff of French theatrical farce.

For the cast of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, mastering the element of timing in comic acting has posed the biggest challenge.

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the elements of comedy and the broad, over-the-top humor that has its roots in vaudeville,” Johnson said. “I tell them, ‘Think Harold Lloyd, think gangster flicks, think the Marx Broth ers.’”

By way of “research,” Johnson suggested they watch A Night at the Opera and the Tony Curtis/Jack Lemmon scenes in Some Like It Hot. She also endorsed reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

“I’m still awed by the skill and sense of comedic timing the entire cast of that sitcom consistently demonstrated,” she said.

Music director Douglas says the well-crafted operetta has it all — a melodious, waltz-y score, a collection of irreverent comic characters, a frivolous but engaging story line with plenty of humorous turns.

Fledermaus is fun,” he states. “It’s nice for audiences simply to be entertained. No heavy messages here, and we promise you lots of laughs.”

– By Harriet Goodheart

 

 


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