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Opera closes season with fun and flirting

April 27, 2008

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    April 27, 2008
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    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Opera closes season with fun and flirting

After dragging a legendary womanizer down to hell last month at the end of "Don Giovanni," Opera Carolina closes its season with a lighter look at amorous escapades.

Nobody suffers eternal damnation at the end of Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus." A man lands in jail for a while, but that's on the tangent of his main adventure: sneaking off to a costume party and flirting with a woman who, unbeknownst to him, is his wife. It turns out that she can't be too hard on him, though. She has an admirer of her own.

Strauss' music keeps the story waltzing along so buoyantly that anything other than a happy ending is inconceivable. Everyone is having too much fun.

Family business

Johann Jr. belonged to the second generation of Strausses whose music defined the party-loving atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna. He had already written some of the catchy, seductive dances that audiences still adore -- such as his "Blue Danube" waltz -- when his wife and friends persuaded him to try composing for the stage. After an impresario brought him a story centering on a skirt-chasing husband, Strauss created a hit: "Die Fledermaus."

What's in a name?

It means "The Bat," as in the little flying mammal. But even in English-speaking countries -- and even when the performances are in English, as they will be in Charlotte -- the German title holds sway. Maybe that's because it relates to something the audience doesn't see: a prank that Eisenstein, the wandering husband, has played on a buddy before the curtain rises. Because of the trick, the friend had to walk home from a costume party through the streets of Vienna dressed as a bat. As payback, the buddy sets Eisenstein up for what develops at another costume party in "Fledermaus."

Not really a bad guy

James Taylor, who will play Eisenstein here, says the character is like "most of us guys who are married": Now and then, they're tempted by the idea of playing around. Eisenstein tries it. "He's a man who's looking for something outside of what he's been blessed with and not looking at what's right in front of him," Taylor says. But it isn't that Eisenstein is evil. Taylor thinks he just has too much energy for his own good. "He's got a lot of good spirit about him," Taylor explains. "He's fun-loving. He likes a glass of champagne. He loves a waltz. He loves to just relax and enjoy life."

Luminous music

That comment about enjoying life could go for all the characters. And their music radiates it. A few of the high points: Orlofsky, the Russian prince who hosts the costume party -- a young man who's played by a woman -- opens the party with a vigorous tribute to following one's passions. Eisenstein's wife goes to the party dressed as a Hungarian countess, and Strauss gives her a zesty Hungarian-style showpiece to help the disguise succeed. The couple's chambermaid, pursuing flirtations of her own, lets her high spirits ring out in a laughing song that takes to the stratosphere.

A husband's wake-up call

What Eisenstein doesn't know -- though the audience does -- is that his wife has an admirer in the form of a hot-blooded opera singer. She doesn't exactly push him away. When Eisenstein finally finds out, Taylor says, it helps teach him his lesson. "Most guys kind of get it in their head that, `It's OK if I do it, but if my wife does it, it's not OK,' " Taylor says. "It wakes him up a little bit. I kind of like the character for that reason." PREVIEW

-STEVEN BROWN
sbrown@charlotteobserver.com

Die Fledermaus Opera Carolina presents Johann Strauss' operetta.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. next Sunday.
WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.
TICKETS: $15-$95.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.