Writer Michelle Malia van Dalen reports on Syracuse Opera’s 40th anniversary season,which kicks off this weekend with Die Fledermaus.
Theatergoers checking out Syracuse Opera’s 2014-2015 season lineup might be surprised by the absence of tragedy, but the company welcomes this change of pace as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Douglas Kinney Frost, producing and artistic director for the company, describes the three-production slate as full of fun, froth and mayhem.
The season kicks off this weekend at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater with the operetta Die Fledermaus, composed in 1874 by Austrian Johann Strauss II to a libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée. Frost, who will conduct the orchestra, deems Strauss the “pre-eminent popular music god of his time.”
This comedy of errors follows a trio of characters as they attend Prince Orlofsky’s lavish masked ball. The slandering Gabriel van Eisenstein (played by baritone Michael Mayes in his Syracuse Opera debut) postpones his prison sentence by attending the ball. Without his knowledge, his wife Rosalinde (soprano Jennifer Goode Cooper, also in her debut with the company) also attends the ball, as does their chambermaid Adele (soprano Katrina Thurman). After a series of unintentional interactions and mistaken identities, all truth is revealed by curtain call.
Thurman describes Adele as a “mischievous maid who is looking for a better life than the one she’s been handed.” After her night at the ball, Adele realizes she may not have to return to her life as a maid, but rather flourish in the extravagant world she experienced that night.
“This whole show, what makes it comical is that a lot of characters don’t even know what’s happening to them as things are unfolding,” says Thurman, who also starred in Syracuse Opera’s Little Women (2009) and The Mikado (2010). Translation: Pay attention to the background, where much of the action takes place unbeknownst to the characters at the forefront of the stage.
Thurman lives in Philadelphia but grew up in Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a country music singer. She previously played Adele as an undergraduate and looks at the operetta with fresh eyes. “Coming back to this role as an adult,” she says, “it’s just really fun to dig in and recognize all the layers of the characters, of the music, and to have a different outlook on the whole piece.”
Die Fledermaus’ plot will keep opera fans laughing and the Strauss music remains engaging. “At the end of the day, the plotlines are all just superfluous for the romp of having this great music and hearing great tunes back to back,” says Frost. Audience members will likely recognize the tunes without knowing exactly where they have heard them before.
This marks the fourth Syracuse Opera season to include Die Fledermaus, an obvious audience favorite with previous productions mounted in 1979, 1983 and 2000. Since the theme of this anniversary season is overwhelmingly celebratory, Die Fledermaus’ second act, with its ball sequence, especially encompasses that feel.
The company’s four-decade milestone would not have been possible without the assistance of seasoned professionals, dedicated staff and board members, and, of course, loyal patrons. “We’re celebrating a legacy,” says Frost, “not just this moment in time.”
Frost, who has worked at opera houses on four continents, has enjoyed the “roll-up-your-sleeves attitude” typical of the Syracuse Opera staff. “The company is run by the art. We want the product to speak for itself. It’s about an emotional hit and it’s about quality. I don’t want people to come because we’re their local opera company. I want people to come because of the quality.”
After this weekend’s performances of Die Fledermaus, the season continues in February with A Little Night Music, composer Stephen Sondheim’s charming, witty musical about a hit-and-miss relationship that the characters finally decide to pursue later in life. “When things are dull, dark and dismal here,” says Frost, “A Little Night Music is this little clementine, a little bit of citrus that’s inspiring and fun.”
In April the season closes with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, a light, springy performance full of cartoon-like antics.
“There will be a few deaths next year,” promises Frost. “We’ll kill some people off on stage to balance it out.” Until then, let the laughter boom and the champagne corks fly.
Syracuse Opera will stage Strauss’ Die Fledermaus on Friday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 26, 2 p.m., at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St. The production will be presented in English with projected titles. Tickets are $26, $46, $81, $106, $136.
The company will next stage Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Carrier Theater on Feb. 6, 8, 11, 13 and 15. The performances will also be sung in English with projected titles.
Then it’s back to the Crouse-Hinds Theater for Syracuse Opera’s season finale of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville on April 17 and 19, presented in Italian with projected English titles.
For box office information, dial 476-7372 or visit Syracuseopera.com.