Operetta takes comedic spin

BY ISSAC HAMLET | MAY 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Upon hearing the phrase “German opera,” most would not immediately think of a comedy. This, however, is precisely the case with Die Fledermaus, a farce featuring royalty, crime, and love set to music.  

Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, presented by University of Iowa School of Music, will take the stage at 8 p.m. Friday in the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

“In an operetta, there is dialogue breaking up the songs, about 85 percent sung and 15 percent spoken,” said Bill Theisen, the director of the production. “It’s an early form of musical theater.”

Die Fledermaus was written in German, and the title translates as “The Bat” in English. It is one of the most widely performed operettas; the university last produced the musical in 1986.

It’s a primarily comical piece that focuses on the character Rosalinda, husband Eisenstein, and her lover, Alfred. The plot begins to unfold when Eisenstein decides to attend a masked ball before serving eight days of jail he’s been sentenced to for insulting an officer. Meanwhile, Alfred tries to seduce Rosalinda.

“Alfred is Rosalinda’s Italian lover from the past,” said James Judd, who plays Alfred. “Hearing about her husband’s arrest, he attempts to rekindle the old flame. He is an extremely confident operatic tenor who never wastes a chance to show off his charming looks and brilliant voice.”

As events play out, the story snowballs into a comedy of mistaken identities, seduction, and revenge.

“The thing about working on these [older] pieces is that often times, the people putting it on feel the need to ‘wink’ at the audience and comment on the story to a certain extent,” Theisen said. “I feel that if we’re sincere about the story, then the comedy will come through the way it was intended.”

Three of the roles in the operetta have been double-cast, one of which is Rosalinda who will be played by Jessica Saunders and Jessica Faselt.

“[The character of Rosalinda] I discussed with the director at length,” Saunders said. “A lot of people play her just as comedic as the other characters. The director wanted her to be a more down-to-earth character that was the moral core of the operetta.”

This tonal shift from the way many people play the character was accomplished by paying attention to the way dialogue was delivered and ensuring the characters’ reactions were not embellished.
Though Saunders has performed in a number of other productions before, this is the largest role she’s had. Because of this, she’s found it quite a task to adjust to things such as budgeting her voice and adapting to the level of physical activity.

“The amount of movement we had to do [was a surprise],” she said. “There was very sophisticated blocking physically, though on occasion, it did help me sing better.”

Given the length of the play, all of the cast members had to work hard to prepare themselves in terms of both vocals and movement.

“One can do as much preparation as they like before rehearsals, but the challenging and most rewarding part is putting it together,” Judd said. “Everyone brings their own ideas about their character and relationships. In a short amount of time, it all has to blend together to create a cohesive show. Adding the orchestra, costumes, makeup, and stage crew is a grand task, but when it comes together, the result is why I love the theater.”

UI Opera Theater Presents Die Fledermaus
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. May 4
Where: Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $5 to $20

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