If “Die Fledermaus” were a color, it would be champagne pink. With sparkling tunes, bubbly wit and most of the characters tipsy, the operetta by Viennese icon Johann Strauss II is just as fun as it was in 1874 — and Tacoma Opera is timing its Rialto production perfectly for Valentine’s Day weekend. The first opera the company performed, in 1968, this version is getting a Noel Coward touch, adding a Fred-and-Ginger flair to opera’s biggest party.
“The comedy is accessible and understandable. There’s nothing over anyone’s head,” director Chris Nardine said about why “Die Fledermaus” just keeps partying on the most-popular-opera lists. “There’s everything from vaudeville to snappy Noel Coward-like deliveries.”
“And the music is glorious,” said conductor Bernard Kwiram.
‘Die Fledermaus’ is fun because everyone knows the tunes, and the audience will see how much fun we’re having.
Brendan Tuohy, tenor
It’s the music that most people will recognize, even if they don’t know the name.
“Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat,” in German) was written at the height of Vienna’s golden age, and is chock-full of those waltzes and polkas that are so hard to resist swaying to. The overture sees regular performances, from New Year’s Eve concerts (such as the Vienna Philharmonic’s televised broadcasts) to the 1950 Warner Brothers cartoon “Tom and Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl,” with Jerry irrepressibly conducting the triangle part from the tip of Tom’s baton. The opera ends with the famous champagne polka. In the middle are opera hits such as “The Laughing Song,” featuring the maid Adele trilling her repeated “hah-hah-hah” on perfect high Gs, plus waltzes, polkas and even a Hungarian csardas.
And then there’s the story — a ridiculous tale of deception, flirtation and eventual reconciliation. Celebrity Prince Orlofsky (soprano Nerys Jones in the pants role) decides to throw a masked ball, and his friend Dr. Falke (José Rubio) decides to make some mischief with the guest list. To get revenge on his friend Gabriel von Eisenstein (Stephen Rumph) for a practical joke that ended up with Falke passed out on a park bench in a bat costume, Falke persuades Eisenstein to sneak away from the jail sentence and attend the party, disguised as a French marquis. Falke then tricks Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde (Kimberly Giordano) into coming too, disguised as a Hungarian countess, while her Italian lover Alfred (Brendan Tuohy) gets locked up instead of Eisenstein. The jailer (Barry Johnson) and the maid (Caitlin Cisler) also sneak in, disguised, and everyone drinks way too much champagne.
“Die Fledermaus” is No. 11 on the most performed opera list at operabase.com.
“You’re seeing all these people at an extreme place in their lives, then they interact and mingle,” says Tuohy. “Everyone’s hiding something, and they do this dance to keep (the secret).”
Tuohy is clearly enjoying being Alfred. A Tacoma boy who grew up with the company (his father Ed moved sets during the ’80s and ’90s, and he made his chorus debut in “Carmen” at age 10), he’s singing the role for the first time and hamming up the Italian accent despite his beefy, quarterback looks — even throwing in some Verdi quotes for extra comedy.
Foiling Alfred’s charmingly enthusiastic moves is Rosalinde, whom Giordano plays with upper-class hauteur and a bossy soprano. Jones makes the most of her cross-dressing role, flirting with men and women alike and swigging vodka. Rumph makes a dashing, insensitive Eisenstein, Cisler gives the maid Adele a French twist, and the scene where Johnson and Rumph fake their way through a French conversation (“Bon voyage!” “Grand fromage!”) had everyone in stitches at rehearsal.
Nardine sets the whole thing in high-society New York in the Gatsby era, with 1920s décor and clipped Noel Coward accents. Dancers from Tacoma City Ballet will spice up the polkas in the Orlofsky ball scene.
“This opera’s fun because everyone knows the tunes, and the audience will see how much fun we’re having (on stage),” says Tuohy.
The company looks like they’re having a fabulous time. After all, it’s hard to resist a party — and with melody and wit flowing like champagne, “Die Fledermaus” is the ultimate party opera.
Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II
Who: Tacoma Opera, directed by Chris Nardine.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 12) and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma.
Watch: The overture in the cartoon “Tom and Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl” at tinyurl.com/jhtsfy8.