I'm a children's book author, radio presenter of 'By the Book' for Radio Northern Beaches, and freelance writer. Check out www.brydiewright.com for more about
Modernising a Classic
As a theatre reviewer, I'm embarrassed to admit I'm an opera virgin. I have always been intimidated by its elevated status and though intrigued by the idea of seeing a famous Italian opera, I have been concerned it wouldn't hold my interest.
Enter the opportunity to attend a performance of Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus, by Operantics. By the end of the performance, I am delighted to report that my reticence about opera was overcome and my preconceived notions unfounded.
The stage at The Independent Theatre is set like a movie from the 1920s
Independent company Operantics is committed to producing affordable opera for local audiences while maintaining the quality expected of the art form. It is also a champion for young artists and as such, a vehicle for up-and-coming sopranos and tenors. For its current season, running at The Independent Theatre in North Sydney, Producer Katie Miller-Crispe and Director Ian Warwick, break with tradition and revive not only an operatic comedy but a German-language classic, rather than an epically tragic Italian operetta.
For an opera newbie, I found this an excellent way to dip my toes in the art form's deep waters and I would recommend it to anyone who loves theatre. But if it's in German, how on earth will I know what's going on, you might ask?
This new production of Die Fledermaus goes to great lengths to make Strauss' work as accessible to modern audiences as possible. The 'libretto', or text of the opera, is a clever new adaptation, set in Manhattan in the roaring 20s and the German lyrics are translated on the big screen. The big screen becomes the focal point of the set and is used as a plot device to stage the performance as if it were a movie from the 'talkies' era of golden cinema. The seamless projection is replete with opening credits, slick art deco backdrops and the aforementioned subtitles, which make it very clear what is happening at all times.
Photo courtesy of John Kilkeary and Operantics - Roselinde entraps Eisenstein at the ball
With the sophisticated New York setting, Operantics have created the atmosphere of a Hollywood musical, not unlike Cole Porter's all singing and dancing High Society , with its comedic dialogue and farcical twists and turns.
Die Fledermaus tells the story of the cunning Dr Falke who devises an intricate ruse to exact revenge on his 'frenemy' Gabriel von Eisenstein. Eisenstein played a trick on Falke years ago, resulting in an embarrassing nickname he can't shake - 'Dr. Bat' or Dr. Fledermaus (in German). With an ultimate endgame involving Eisenstein's wife Roselinde, Falke orchestrates a trap for Eisenstein at a ball held by the eccentric Prince Orlofsky, with elaborate and hilarious results.
I was struck by the depth of operatic and comedic talent in the young cast. It was a joy to behold such strong and triumphant female leads in an art form that generally indulges in the sorrows of fallen women, lead to their downfall by powerful men. Soprano Jessica Harper steals the show as Roselinde, both in terms of her acting and incredible vocal range. The operatic heights she hits are uplifting and gives this modern interpretation its classical gravitas. Other notable female performances include the ambitious lady's maid Adele (dual cast Amy Balales and Deepka Ratra) and the OTT Prince Orlofsky (dual cast Laura Griffin and Rebecca Hart).
Photo c/o- John Kilkeary and Operantics - Roselinde and her amorous suitor Alfred
The other highlight of this performance is the party scene which dominates Act 2. Directors often cut corners with party scenes on stage, using stylistic techniques, merely creating the inference of a social gathering. Die Fledermaus' success depends on a true and faithful depiction of a high society ball in all its glory, with champagne, dancing, romance and intrigue. The Operantics cast, with clever direction and staging, sweep the audience away in the atmosphere of a Gatsby-like party. By the end you'll feel like you've lived through an amazing night, sympathising with the dishevelled characters and their hangovers in Act 3.
Photo c/o- John Kilkeary and Operantics - Adele takes centre stage at the ball
With uplifting songs, smart and sassy dialogue, pop culture references and excellent comic timing, this production of Die Fledermaus is a credit to amateur opera and it is only a shame its season is so brief. It's the best party I've been to in a long while and I was pleasantly surprised to see an old art form re-invigorated for a new audience.
So glad you enjoyed our show, Brydie! Courtesy of our generous sponsors Yarra Burn Sparkling, we are happy to be able to offer a complimentary refreshment to guests at interval during Friday's performance as well as on Thursday's opening
night. We trust our show will convert more opera virgins and sceptics to this fabulous artform!