Sacramento Opera: Seeing Is Believing

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, November 18, 2005

Sacramento Opera presents "Die Fledermaus" November 18, 20, and 22 at the Sacramento Community Center Theatre.  See link on right for more information.

At the Sacramento Opera’s rehearsal on Tuesday,  there was a lot happening on stage at the Community Center Theatre… just not much singing.  It was a tech rehearsal, working out stage direction, blocking, and lighting; positioning the props, and running through the dialogue.  All of it, says artistic director Timm Rolek, points to opera’s multi-dimensional nature.

“Opera is the ultimate combination art form because it combines music and theatre and dance and visual arts and everything wrapped up into one big package.”

And that package, says Rolek, is becomming more and more attractive.

“It’s very appealing to people in our culture at this time because we are so visually oriented.  Attendance at symphony concerts and chamber music concerts is going down all around the country. And what’s growing is the opera business because we provide the closest thing to watching a movie.”

If Die Fledermaus were a movie instead of an operetta you would have to call it a blockbuster, with the immense appeal of composer Johann Strauss, known universally as the Waltz King.

“The music he wrote was so overwhelmingly popular and still is today.  And a very funny comedy… it’s based on a play by these two Frenchmen who were the hit of Paris in the 1870’s and who wrote arguably one of the biggest name operas of all time Carmen.   And Carmen of course is a tragedy but this is just wickedly funny.”

After the second world war  Fledermaus got even funnier as it took on a new tradition.  It was now a celebratory kind of piece often performed on New Year’s Eve. To keep the party going, companies would hire a comedian to spice up the start of the third act.  Political satirist Will Durst will join the Sacramento production.   Rolek says it was his assistant who suggested inviting Durst.

“Because she happened to be reading an article by him and I said, I’d never thought of that so let’s give him a call.  And we called him and he said well I’d never thought about being in an opera.  And I said perfect! Neither of us had thought of each other.  So we hired him.”

The set onstage offers more comic relief and spectacle.  Wall hangings reflect the attitudes of the primary characters, social-climbers who think the bigger and the more ostentatious, the better.

“There are these paintings that are at least 20 feet tall.  When you look at these paintings you come to the first act and you see the front sides of people.  And then as the play progresses the people turn around so by the time you see the last act you’re seeing their butts instead of the front side.”

With its comic and musical appeal, Fledermaus makes for a good entry-level operetta.  And -- if you’re nearing middle age and have never been to the opera -- Rolek says you’re not alone.

“Nationwide the average age of the very first-time Opera goer is roughly age 40.  We’re talking about people that are approaching the empty nest time of their life, when they have disposable income and are willing to look for different things that they want to try.”

So how does he get them to try opera?

“That’s the 64 thousand dollar question isn’t it?  And the way we like to view that question is that we are selling a great night out.” 

Artistic director of the Sacramento Opera, Timm Rolek… Die Fledermaus plays tonight, Sunday and Tues at the Community Center Theatre.  Comic cast member Will Durst talks with Jeffrey today at 2 on Insight.

Paul Conley, KXJZ News