by Simon de Carvalho '14
Opera: reduced by modern society to something dealt with exclusively in Edith Wharton novels, stigmatized as a genre of art which takes itself far too seriously, dispatched alongside other traditions of old to the realm of the "simply inaccessible to modern day audiences."
All of this, as I’ve come to find, is wrong, as one quick listen to the brilliant overture from Johann Strauss’ whimsical and silly 1874 operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) should confirm for any likeminded reader.
A production by Dunster House Opera Society has a has three more performances February 10 (student discount day), 11 and 12. Tickets are available at the Harvard Box Office, online and at the door starting at 7:45 the night of the show.
Die Fledermaus is a story much too complicated to be summarized adequately in a couple of short sentences (all the more reason to go see it), but in essence it is the tale of a drunken group of wealthy 19th-century Vienna residents (husband and wife, lover, chambermaid, friends, prison warden) who are all called away to different "commitments" only to all end up attending the same lavish party in various disguises. Hilarity ensues.
Music director Matthew Aucoin ’12 reminds, however, that while the show is truly funny, there is some brilliant melancholy and real emotion under the surface: "Certainly the audience should not be thinking ‘Ah, this is so melancholy’ as they watch it, but if Rosalinde and Eisenstein [the leading wife and husband], in particular, are realized as richly as they can be, we'll feel for them as they make fools of themselves, and that tenderness will add a—very subtle—new flavor, under the surface. If it were 100 percent silliness, why would we still be performing this one piece after 140 years?"
They wouldn’t. But thankfully, amid the silliness, there really is something to be gained from Die Fledermaus. In English, the script sparkles with a bouncing and even biting wit.
But even if the show had been in its original German, I still would have gotten a lot out of it: The score is at times hilarious, quite often absolutely beautiful, and always whimsical and clever.
Aucoin also discussed the orchestra’s experience with the piece, saying it is a challenge to "react to every little change of mood, every constantly-changing emotional shading, in the singers' parts—but in spite of that everything needs to be elegant and light and refined in terms of rhythm and sound quality. The orchestra giggles its way through this opera. I like to think they’re laughing at the singers."
And, should you see Die Fledermaus, it’s likely you’ll be laughing rather often, too. It’s quite the riotous affair. But you'll also probably get something out of it—beyond the hilarity, it's a show with meaning. But you have to go to get that meaning.
And don't discount this benefit: You get to say you actually went to an opera. And that you enjoyed it.