Dorothy Danner has never been one to rest on her laurels. In 2003 she served as stage director for a well-received production of "Die Fledermaus" at Virginia Opera. This weekend, the company is bringing back the light-hearted Strauss operetta, with Danner again serving as director.
But she's quick to tell you that the secret to staying fresh is finding new wine for an old bottle. Or in Strauss' case, the champagne needs to be bubbly and not flat.
So her singers are dealing with new dialogue that she's unearthed from various texts that drew from the same "Fledermaus" tale that Strauss used. These include a three-act farce titled "On Bail" written by W.S. Gilbert, part of the song-writing team of Gilbert & Sullivan, and an 1840 play called "Rosalinde" she found in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts library in New York.
Adding new dialogue "can be stressful for the singers, but it's all part of the process of constant change," she says. "Some people are excited by it ... others are terrified."
Premiered in 1874, "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat") is the quintessential Viennese operetta, full of light comedy and waltz music. The nonsensical plot deals with mistaken identities, unfaithful couples and, of course, a grand ball.
The key to performing this opera well, says Danner, is an ability to play light comedy and to move with the music.
"Everyone thinks that these light comedies are easy, but the piece demands a great deal from the cast," she says. "The pitfalls are to be too weighty and be unable to physicalize the music. You can't be less graceful than the music. You have to be light.
"And it requires a certain perception about life. You need a sense of wonderment, the idea that anything can happen."
To pull all this off, Danner is working with conductor Gary Thor Wedow, who is making his debut with Virginia Opera. The cast includes soprano Emily Pulley as the mischievous Rosalinde; soprano Sarah Jane McMahon as the flirtatious maid, Adele; and mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims as the party host, Prince Orlovsky. Baritone Philip Cutlip plays Rosalinde's husband, the womanizing von Eisenstein, with tenor Ryan MacPherson as Rosalinde's lover and baritone Christopher Burchett as Dr. Falke.
Each performance will be preceded by a 30-minute discussion by Glenn Winters, the company's director of community education.
Want to go:
What: "Die Fledermaus," presented by Virginia Opera
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18.
Where: Harrison Opera House, 160 E. Virginia Beach Blvd., Norfolk.
Tickets: $32-$114 available by calling 757-877-2550 or online at http://www.vaopera.org.
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By John Shulson
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