Opera fans are in for a real treat this weekend when the Virginia Opera performs “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat) at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.
The Johann Strauss opera, written in 1874, is considered one of the most beloved operas by the genre’s enthusiasts, capturing the height of indulgent 19th century Viennese society.
The story follows Dr. Falke, who has planned a magnificent party as part of an elaborate scheme to exact revenge on his friend, Gabriel von Eisenstein, for a youthful prank.
“The opera itself happens because of a practical joke played on my character by the womanizing Eisenstein. We go to a party one night and I get really drunk and instead of taking care of me he leaves me on a park bench,” said Christopher Burchett, who plays Dr. Falke. “This rest of the opera is me planning a retaliation on him. I have him come to a party and have his wife in disguise so that she can see him flirt with all the other woman.”
What follows is a series of mix-ups, mistaken identity, suspected marital infidelity, innuendo and revenge that brings out lots of laughs.
“I think the story is really good and it has all kinds of different humor—smart, slapstick, physical, modern—and the music itself is almost always based on some sort of dance and so you leave whistling,” Burchett said. “My character is always in control and is the puppet master of the whole show and that’s a lot of fun. My solo is so off from the rest and is really beautiful and lyrical.”
The cast features soprano Emily Pulley as the mischievous Rosalinde; soprano Jane McMahon as the flirtatious maid Adele; mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims as the fun-loving party host Orlovsky; baritone Philip Cutlip as the womanizing von Eisenstein; tenor Ryan MacPherson as Rosalinde’s secret lover, Alfred; and bass-baritone Jake Gardner as the prison ward Frank.
“The cast from top to bottom is on top of their game,” Burchett said. “I’m so honored to be doing this among them.”
The production marks the company debut of conductor Gary Thor Wedow, who has served on the faculty of the Juilliard School since 1994 and frequently appears with the Wolf Trap Opera Company.
“The opera world is kind of like a band of gypsies and we meet up at different places at different times and I’m very happy to have ended up here,” Wedow said. “The level of singers is so high, the level of production is so high and the fact that it’s a touring company is really exciting. I love opera so much and getting people to the opera and reaching out to others is so important to me.”
Wedow believes that Strauss sometimes gets a bad rap in the opera community but that his compositions are always first-rate and he deserves to be mentioned among the Brahms and Verdis of the world.
“I’m delighted to do this because it’s one of the staples of the operatic repertoire,” he said. “It is brilliantly composed music. He was such a fine violinist himself and conductor, he understood the workings of an orchestra intimately. What has humbled me is the amount of orchestral detail that is in the composition.”
He describes the opera as being all about movement with dances galore throughout. There are polkas, gallops, slow and fast waltzes, and even a couple of marches.
“I think it relates to our cavemen ancestors around the fire. We hear a piece like this, and you can’t help but be swept up in its vitality,” Wedow said. “It has an incredible plot that is as old as Moses and as contemporary as any sitcom on TV today. It’s a brilliantly constructed comedy and has served as an example for so many imitations. I’m having a ball and am very happy to be doing this show.”
The Virginia Symphony Orchestra will provide the music for the production.
A pre-performance discussion, free to ticket holders, begins 45 minutes prior to each performance on the Center’s Grand Tier III and is sponsored by the Friends of the Center for the Arts.