Start out right, with Die Fledermaus, as produced by the Virginia Opera. Light hearted, free-wheeling and fast paced, under the stage direction of reliably inventive Dorothy Danner, with music by the waltz king Johann Strauss II, Die Fledermaus should be the perfect first opera for folks who have never attended one.
It's about a husband and wife, crossing paths at a masked ball, each unaware of the other's identity. Extra-marital liaisons are hinted, but only hinted. All one really sees or hears about is extra-marital flirtation, and it's quite reasonable to believe that nothing more ever has happened between the opera's mix-and-match character pairs. (Though Danner does keep using the word "seductive" to describe both music and story.)
Danner was responsible for the singularly lovely staging of La Traviata for the VOA seven years ago, for directing the modern opera Susannah here, for The Mikado more recently, and for a host of other highly praised and well received VOA productions. This version of Fledermaus is a restaging of a production she did here in 2003. She's acted on Broadway, TV and in films, taught extensively, and directed a legion of operas and plays.
Her sister is actress Blythe Danner, and she's kin to the whole ensemble of Danner and Paltrow arts and entertainment celebrities.
Die Fledermaus means, literally, The Flying Mouse – which is to say, The Bat. That's a reference to the costume one character had worn to a masked ball – this is 19th Century Vienna – that had been held some time before the opera takes place.
Humiliated then by a friend with a taste for harsh (albeit harmless) practical jokes, The Bat – that is, the man who had been dressed as one – sets out to turn the tables on his mischievous friend – the husband mentioned above – at another high society ball. Again, costumes and disguises are in order, and those will allow The Bat to set up a properly effective payback, with compound interest.
Fun is the word that keeps cropping up in Danner's remarks about the production – with "lightness," it makes up the guiding principle behind her staging.
To this three-quarter-time fueled farce of flirtation, disguise and harmless revenge, she has brought her dance trained sensibilities of pacing and motion, so the whole show unfolds in a waltzing whirl. (To keep the story flowing, intermissions uniquely serve as mime-like narrative bridges between acts.)
In the end, "sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander" justice prevails for the marrieds with wandering eyes, no lasting harm comes to anyone, The Bat has his thoroughgoing revenge and everyone, including the audience (one assumes), goes home remembering a romantic farce with the champagne sparkle of a princely masked ball.
By Johann Strauss II
Nov. 10 – Nov. 18
Virginia Opera Association
Harrison Opera House
160 E. Virginia Beach Blvd.
Norfolk, Virginia 23510
757 – 623 – 1223
-Montague Gammon for VEER Magazine