It seems as though the best characters are the ones in which we recognize aspects of ourselves, and this may be what has made Die Fledermaus—The Bat, in English—one of Johan Strauss’s most beloved comedic operettas.
The story opens the night before a man by the name of Gabriel von Eisenstein is to be sent to jail—although his sentence is only for a fortnight—following an opulent ball hosted by Prince Orlofsky. What unfolds is a series of mistaken identities and flirtation, all wrapped up in one man’s pursuit for revenge.
“The opera was written in 1874, so it was the year after Vienna was hit by a big stock-market crash. The reason Johann Strauss wrote it with this really effervescent score was to lift the spirits of the poor Viennese people,” says director Allison Grant, who is returning to the production for the sixth time, but her first in the director’s chair. “But it also has kind of a dark side to it in that the characters are really human. They’re not very likable; they’re grasping; they’re adulterous; there’s all these aspects in the storyline, and yet there’s something about them that we all love. I guess it’s because we recognize ourselves in these crazy characters who are just struggling to survive in their bourgeoisie kind of lifestyle.”
Die Fledermaus, unlike many operettas, roots its story—despite its overtly laughable comedy of errors—in a realistic setting, Grant notes.
“The storylines [of operettas] are really unrealistic and sometimes fantasy, and this one, what anchors it is that the characters are actually quite real,” she adds. “They aren’t just pretty people: they have real needs and wants and foibles, and I think that’s one of the reasons the show has lasted as long as it has.”
The production was originally written in German, eventually evolving to versions with English dialogue and German song lyrics, but this one’s entirely in English, which may allow audiences to further immerse themselves in the story and its characters.
“That’s a big thing for me is that the storytelling be clear and the acting style be modern and heightened realism, because we are on a great big, huge, giant stage at the Jube, but we have great big, huge, giant sets and costumes to go with it, and the orchestra,” Grant says, noting opera is often performed in the language of the people it is being performed for. “This operetta is a really great one if people are hesitating about going to the opera. If they’ve never been before, it’s a really good one to hear—especially because it’s in English. But also you’re going to hear great singing in a beautiful setting with a full orchestra. There’s nothing like it.”
Sat, Feb 1 (8 pm); Tue, Feb 4 (7:30 pm); Thu, Feb 6 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Allison Grant
Jubilee Auditorium, $40 – $150