Wild parties. Drunken antics and dancing. Elaborate pranks. They're not the first things that come to mind when you think of opera.
When Opera Theatre of the Rockies presents Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus on March 2 and 3 at the Pikes Peak Center, the popular operetta's revelry will perfectly match the company's festive mood in 2013, its 15th anniversary season.
"Die Fledermaus is just a good night on the town," says Linda Ade Brand, the show's stage director. "It's fun and a little bit naughty."
First performed in 1874, the operetta revolves around Dr. Falke's attempt to get his revenge on his friend Gabriel von Eisenstein through an elaborate prank that involves a party, Eisenstein's wife Rosalinde and other assorted characters. For years, Falke has been biding his time to pay back Eisenstein for leaving him passed out in the woods following a costume party, which led to an early morning walk of shame through the town square dressed in full bat regalia. Not to mention the infuriating nickname, "Dr. Bat" ("bat" is fledermaus in German), which he's never shaken.
Falke's time has come. He's involved with another costume party, this time thrown by a prince, to which everyone is going. Eisenstein and Rosalinde, having been together just long enough that the initial thrill is gone, are ready to jump at the chance to spend an evening in disguise. But Eisenstein — who is supposed to be headed to jail for insulting an official — sneaks off to the ball without Rosalinde.
When a Hungarian countess arrives, Eisenstein can't take his eyes off her and mercilessly flirts with her. He doesn't realize it's his wife.
"Rosalinde sort of gets her groove back. In a strange sort of way, her husband is attracted to that same woman all over again," Brand says. "Little does he know, he's in the doghouse really soon, because she knows he doesn't recognize her."
Opera Theatre of the Rockies regulars may feel twinges of recognition during the performance, as the company makes playful references to its past productions. In the first act, when Rosalinde meets her old lover Alfred, audiences will recognize the duo as Annamarie Zmolek and Joel Burcham, who played lovers in last year's production of La Traviata. (This will really sink in when Alfred serenades her with snippets from the Italian libretto.)
In the second act, the Hungarian countess sings a rousing number to get costumed partygoers moving. The elaborate dance will showcase magnificent costumes from 15 years of company productions.
Audiences will also have a chance to delve deeper into the show. One hour prior to each performance, Brand and conductor Christopher Zemliauskas will discuss Die Fledermaus for ticket holders on the mezzanine level of the Pikes Peak Center. "I'll probably take it mostly from the point of view of Falke, and all of the things that were on this to-do list to make this elaborate practical joke happen," Brand says.
After a night of irresistible music, waltzing, intrigue and jokes, Falke pulls off his prank. Do any hard feelings linger? Well, the morning after, there's a lot of talk about champagne.
"Can't you just blame everything on the alcohol?" asks Zmolek. "It's funny because it's just a handy little excuse. There's a lot of willful suspension of disbelief.
"Die Fledermaus is an interesting little story about disguises. There's a truth to it about the masks we all wear."