By Harriet Howard Heithaus of the Naples Daily News
The only thing more effervescent than a Strauss waltz is a chorus of people singing it. So even if there are no Christmas tree or carols, Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” may be the perfect operetta for a holiday season.
It layers familiar melodies, snappy dialogue and comic situations like a dense sachertorte, and the Opera Naples cast was already having fun with it this week in rehearsal. The characters in its romantic dalliances stomped, swirled and sulked around the stage in Viennese melodrama at the Wang Opera Center.
Stage director Jose Maria Condemi was choreographing every arm wave, because the operetta itself will be presented at Arti —Naples on Tuesday, with the Naples Philharmonic onstage alongside the cast.
The semi-staged opera, sung in English, won’t have sets. But its characters are in costume, with props and furniture, and all must work in front of the orchestra and conductor. That works well with this story, Condemi said.
“For something like ‘Die Fledermaus,’ the orchestra is like another character in a way. You have waltzes and party music, if you think about the Act Two, Orlofsky’s party,” he explained. “There will be dance and the chorus onstage.”
Condemi, director of opera for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has created similar onstage-orchestra works: “La Traviata” at Wolf Trap and “Bluebeard’s Castle” with the San Francisco Symphony.
“They engage the imagination of opera more than the full stage. Your imagination fills in what you need. You know there’s a door on side of the stage. Why? Because every time someone comes in it’s from that side,” he explained.
There will be plenty of entrances and exits in this work, and if there were doors, they’d be slamming. It revolves broadly around a character whose friend has found a pretext to have him jailed for several days, revenge for dumping the friend, inebriated and asleep, in the town square dressed as a bat (fledermaus, in German).
The convicted man has secretly bargained for a day’s reprieve before his jail time so he can cavort at Prince Orlofsky’s upcoming costume ball. But his wife has been invited, too, while she is being pursued by an old flame. There are maids on the loose, a drunken jailer and lessons for all in the end. There is also a hearty helping of familiar Strauss melodies.
For those who like props, this production has plenty. A veritable forest of costumes — billowing gowns and velvet-collared frock coats adapted by Judy Hushon to the cast hung in a back hall awaiting dress rehearsal this week. There was drawing room furniture and the small spires of liquor flasks stood ready for a side table.
All had been assembled before Condemi and the principal singers arrived.
“They have a great team at Opera Naples. I sent them a list of props. They would go find things and send me pictures,” said Condemi. The Internet has been his friend; when Condemi works with companies outside California, he can scan and send photos of colors and objects he needs. If the budget allows, he can even send the store website and SKU number of the item he needs.
The Opera Naples Chorus is one of the biggest pieces of Condemi’s logistics puzzle.
“We have 30 people in big gowns — a large group of chorus entering in gowns, and one of problems I have is: How do they get onstage in time to sing?” he said. Entrances shouldn’t bog down the production.
Condemi, whose training was in the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, says those challenges can be met. So can any challenge inside the theater, he said. What happens outside the theater is what can be disastrous to the production.
He recalled a Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Verdi’s “Ernani” he directed. Two weeks before rehearsals the starring soprano broke her foot: “Thankfully we did it in period, so she did the opera with a cast under her costume.”
“There are always things that can’t be rushed” he said. “A huge snowstorm in Europe that grounds flights a day or two or three, a singer who needs a visa and doesn’t get it in time. Those things are beyond my control.”
If you go
What: Johann Strauss Jr. operetta performed by Opera Naples with the Naples Philharmonic, Ramon Tebar conducting, Robin Shuford Frank, chorus director
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Artis—Naples, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
To buy: artisnaples.org or 239-597-1900