See the humorous results of revenge when Geneva Light Opera presents “Die Fledermaus.”
Picture yourself in a Viennese ballroom circa 1874. It’s a New Year’s Eve masquerade party, the perfect excuse for intoxication and indiscretion. The party has been thrown by a Russian prince who sounds suspiciously like a Russian princess, and makes every effort to sow bedlam and see what happens – all to alleviate his boredom. As the magnums of champagne flow, things get further and further out of control, except for the music, which just gets more and more scintillating.
This is hardly one of those “Drink Responsibly” commercials. It’s the beloved Johann Strauss, Jr. operetta “Die Fledermaus,” or “The Bat,” sung in English. On July 21, 23 and 24 it will be performed at the historically appropriate and acoustically spectacular Smith Opera House in Geneva.
“Die Fledermaus” actually played The Smith just a couple of decades after its Vienna premier in 1874. It’s in the top 20 of all operas presented worldwide, and certainly one of the funniest.
But do take note: the humor is particularly European, a spoof on a Victorian-era, Vienna upper class that takes itself all too seriously and then gradually loses its bearings as the evening progresses and the bubbly flows. Since it’s a comic farce, no matter how close the characters come to disaster, we know they’ll somehow get through. Every time things seem to get particularly difficult they (and we) are rescued by an incandescent Strauss song or a familiar waltz – the popular “Fledermaus” overture alone contains four or five great waltz tunes. While the songs seem to stem directly in spirit from the music-hall tradition, the incredible bonus is those luscious and lilting Strauss melodies.
GLO, with gusto
It was all brought back to life in the Finger Lakes by a movement that started nearly 20 years ago, after the Smith Opera House was saved from the wrecking ball. Francis Heilbut, founder of American Landmark Festivals (ALF), brought distinguished Metropolitan Opera stars to The Smith starting in 1999. A pupil of legendary conductor and teacher Pierre Monteux, Heilbut also conducted Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” there in 2001, and “The Sunset Trail,” a rare opera by American composer Charles Cadman, in 2003.
As a tribute to Halibut, ALF, a nonprofit organization that brings classical music to landmarks in New York City and elsewhere, produced a comic opera at The Smith each summer from 2008 to 2014. Under the direction of Gilbert and Sullivan expert Albert Bergeret, those included such favorites as Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” in 2012 and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in 2014.
Two years ago, steps were initiated to form a regional company from ALF’s ongoing opera project. Its goal was to produce light operatic works in the Finger Lakes under its own, new name, “Geneva Light Opera” or GLO.
A steering committee, composed of volunteers with expertise and experience in performing arts, was gathered to explore fundraising opportunities and conduct long-term planning. A mission was drafted: To inspire, educate and entertain audiences in the Finger Lakes Region by presenting operatic productions of high quality through collaboration of emerging young performers, local professionals and nationally known artists. Its not-for-profit 501(c)3 status is currently pending with the IRS.
GLO’s inaugural production was “Cosi fan tutte” in 2015. This summer’s “Die Fledermaus” is its second.
A place made for opera
A favorite of American opera fans, baritone Jimi James heads the first-rate “Fledermaus” cast that includes sopranos Alexis Cregger and Michelle Seipel, baritones John-Andrew Fernandez and Nicholas Kilkenny, tenor Cameron Smith and mezzo soprano Sarah Nordin. Phil Lauriat, a fixture on the New England opera scene for over a quarter-century, will stage the performance, while James Blachly will conduct a 13-piece chamber orchestra, following his brilliant performance in “Cosi ”at the Smith last summer.
“Geneva Light Opera provides accessible and uplifting experiences by using great voices, musicians and actors who are able to reveal the humorous side of a great art form,” noted American Landmark Festivals’ Director Gena Rangel. “With singers and musicians of the highest caliber in a nationally recognized venue built specifically for opera, GLO intends to grow and nurture a lasting enthusiasm for opera, with a focus on the Smith Opera House.”
With outstanding acoustics and perfect sightlines, performers can be seen and heard from every seat in the historic 1894 theatre, with no amplification, and on a stage graced by numerous operatic luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries including Alma Gluck, Frieda Hempel and Jerome Hines.
If you think this all sounds perfect for July in the Finger Lakes, you may be right. The masquerade element will appeal even to children a little young to catch the more subtle vibes, and who, by the way, get in free until they graduate from high school. It’s a great introduction to opera and live musical theater in general; something no flat screen can ever really emulate.
More Information About Geneva Light Opera
Ticket prices are moderate, especially for world-class entertainment. Escape into the fun, the costumes, the dancing, the lives of another time and place. Above all, the music is just as bubbly and intoxicating as any product of the south of France (or the south of Seneca Lake, for that matter). A “champagne” reception for VIP guests will feature some of the area’s best white wines.
story by Richard Reiben, photos by Kevin Schoonover