In the world of opera, the lines of distinction between what are classified as “operas” and “operettas” are often blurry. Operettas are usually more lighthearted fare than the grand operas in the standard repertoire, but still, they can be difficult to define.
Example: Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus,” the next production for the New Orleans Opera Association. Composed in 1874, when opera comique productions were in vogue, “Die Fledermaus” opens Friday, Nov. 13, and closes Sunday with an afternoon matinee.
Both performances, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, will be sung in German with dialogue spoken in English. Translations will be projected above the stage.
Robert Lyall once again conducts the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for this production.
Although most often classified an operetta, “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat) consistently ranks in the Top 20 among most frequently performed operas in the world. Its last staging in New Orleans was in 1996.
Best described as a comedy of errors, the plot is full of twists and turns, mistaken identities and a night of drunken revelry that ends in a trip to the slammer for most of the cast.
Gabriel von Eisenstein, a wealthy Viennese nobleman (sung by Liam Bonner), is tricked by his friend Dr. Falke into attending a masked ball at Prince Orlofsky’s palace where Falke hopes Eisenstein’s infidelity to his wife, Rosalinde, can be exposed.
Several months earlier, Eisenstein had left Falke lying in a drunken stupor while dressed as a bat (hence the title), and Falke is seeking retribution for being made the object of public ridicule.
Rosalinde and the Eisensteins’ maid, Adele (sung by Anya Matanovic), are also invited to the ball, along with Frank, the warden of a prison to which Eisenstein was supposed to report that same evening.
The second act, which takes place in the lavish ballroom of the Orlofsky Palace in Vienna, features some of Strauss’ most familiar waltz music, plus intricate choreography, rousing choral drinking songs and memorable arias, including Adele’s famous “Laughing Song.”
Bonner, a baritone who is singing for New Orleans Opera for the third time since 2011, was signed as a last-minute replacement for Kyle Pfortmiller.
“I’ve sung the role on several other occasions, but never in German,” Bonner said.
“It’s always been in English for me,” Bonner said. “If you’re going to do the dialogue in English, most companies would do the singing in English as well because there’s as much comedy in the music as there is in the dialogue.
“So now I’m trying to wrap my brain around all the German for the singing but at least I’m not having to learn it completely from scratch. It’s a totally fun opera. It’s not just a stand-and-sing kind of piece. There’s a lot of cardio, shall we say.”
Bonner had words of praise for director E. Loren Meeker and choreographer Todd Rhoades, both of whom he has worked with on other productions.
Matanovic, a soprano who is making her New Orleans debut, is making her debut in the role of Adele.
“This one has really been fun for me because I don’t get to do very many comedic roles,” Matanovic said. “I’m having a blast getting to play a kind of broad comedy because, even in my other lighthearted roles, I’m still the ingénue who has to be sweet and lovable.
“I usually have to be the one everyone gets to be funny around but I don’t get to be funny myself,” Matanovic added, laughing when reminded that Adele’s aria during the ballroom scene is one of the most humorous in the operatic repertoire.
Other principals in the cast include Melissa Citro as Rosalinde, Nicholas Pallesen as Dr. Falke, Stephanos Tsirakoglou as Frank and Emily Fons as Prince Orlofsky.