UD goes to bat with operetta Die Fledermaus

By Eric Street

Photo: Johann Strauss II, ‘The Waltz King,’ in 1876

Revenge, deception, flirtation, and the irresistible lilting melodies of Johann Strauss II are in store when University of Dayton students and faculty unite to stage his best-known operetta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

“Operetta is perfect for young voices,” says Artistic Director Minnita Daniel-Cox, Ph.D. “It fills an important place between opera and musical theatre. You get really soaring, sing-able melodies juxtaposed with humor and a comic, light-hearted approach to the subject matter. It gives a more accessible feel, and the students have a really great time with that.”

So, how are the students responding to the challenges of Strauss? “They’re enjoying it thoroughly,” Daniel-Cox says. “I think they’re surprised how enjoyable it is. I think most people are surprised how very funny opera and operetta can be! The students are fantastic—we’ve got some really talented singers on the stage.”

As is typical with operetta, the words and dialog are performed in the language of the audience (English), so there’s no struggling for either spectators or performers to get the meaning and the humor. “This new collaboration is the largest on-campus arts production of the year,” Daniel-Cox explains. “We have incredibly trained students and an internationally-trained faculty and staff.”

The Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology Program provides the sets, costumes, choreography, and staging, while students studying visual arts designed the posters. The singers, orchestra, and faculty leadership come from the Department of Music. Of course, where there’s operetta, there’s dancing, and in the big party scene you can expect to hear fun interpolations of other popular works.

The plot of Die Fledermaus is a light-hearted romp that sweeps from a Viennese boudoir to a masked ball to jail the morning after. Though there may be a hangover for some of the characters, for the audience, it’s pure bubbling champagne, all the way. Opening with the tenor, Alfredo, serenading his old flame, Rosalinde, the improbable action soon finds both Rosalinde and her maid, Adele, attending a masked ball thrown by the wealthy and bored Russian Prince Orlofsky.

At the ball, Alfredo seeks to rekindle romance with Rosalinde, who has disguised herself as a Hungarian countess. She sings a spirited “czardas” to buttress her unlikely claim. Her husband, Gabriel von Eisenstein, who is supposed to be in jail for striking an official rather than attending a ball, immediately recognizes Adele, who is pretending to be a French actress. Adele cleverly rebuts his accusations that she’s his wife’s chambermaid in the famous “Adele’s Laughing Song.”

While the increasingly tipsy crowd sings and dances, Eisenstein accidentally woos his own wife in the sparkling “Watch” duet and she makes off with his pocket watch. As the party nears midnight, Dr. Falke reveals that his nickname, “the Bat,” came from a prank played on him by Eisenstein years before, when he was tricked into walking home through the streets of Vienna in a bat costume.

After recriminations and admissions, the festivities resume in jail the next morning when Dr. Falke and Prince Orlofsky appear with more champagne and all the guests in tow. The operetta concludes in a burst of high spirits with a chorus to champagne.

Daniel-Cox fills the role of artistic director, and Michelle Hayford, Ph.D., is producing. Professor Linda Dunlevy serves as stage director, with Ryu-Kyung Kim, D.M.A., and David Sievers, D.M., as music directors. John Benjamin is rehearsal and pit accompanist, and lecturer Donna Beran is costumer. Debbie Blunden-Diggs and Amy Jones share credit for the choreography. Lecturer Matthew Evans and lecturer Ryan Wantland provide technical direction for the production.

The Creation of Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss II (1825 – 1899) remains Vienna’s most celebrated composer of light music. Dubbed “The Waltz King,” he was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century. His brothers, Josef and Eduard, also composed light music, though they never achieved the fame he reached with his operettas and more than 500 dances, including his enormously popular “Blue Danube” waltz. Although his ancestry was partially Jewish, the Nazis chose to cover up that inconvenient fact rather than deprive the public of his music.

Before Strauss composed Die Fledermaus, the story was a German farce and a French vaudeville. His lively operetta premiered in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien, where Beethoven’s Fidelio debuted over half a century earlier. Buoyed by lively good spirits and delectable waltzes, it achieved its American premiere that same year and has never since left the stage.

UD presents Die Fledermaus at Boll Theatre, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Nov. 6. General Admission costs $12, $8 with university ID. For tickets and more information, please contact the box office at 937.229.2545 or visit Tickets.Udayton.edu. 

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Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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