Florentine Opera to beguile and amuse with ‘Die Fledermaus’

Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.
Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.

Milwaukee welcomes back director John Hoomes (Elmer Gantry 2010) as the Florentine Opera closes its season with the delightful and cheeky operetta Die Fledermaus. The comical tale, by Johann Strauss II, tells the story of a masked ball held by a prince that brings together a collection of duplicitous socialites.

Rife with humor and witty athleticism, Fledermaus will feature the talents of Inna Dukach, in her Florentine debut as Rosalinde, Corey McKern (The Elixir of Love 2015, La Bohème 2014) as Eisenstein, and former Milwaukeean Bill Theisen as Frosch, with Milwaukeean James Zager on hand for choreography. Putting it all together is Hoomes, who says he’s excited to make his return to Milwaukee with this “fantastic piece.”

How would you describe Die Fledermaus’ place in the history of modern opera?

This work, like so many operas, almost went in cycles — similar to Faust, which did that for years. It was the most popular opera in the early 1900s, then for years nobody performed it, and then it started coming back. Fledermaus comes and goes. It’s a fantastic piece. It’s been at least eight years since I’ve done a Fledermaus, but now this is the second one I’ve done this year. It’s not like we all talk (to each other), it just all seems to roll back around.

Will the production be in its traditional period (the late 19th century), or something different?

It will be period, but with great liberty. The script for this is one I had worked with before and is put together from a number of different editions I have done. There isn’t an official edition of Fledermaus. It changes a good bit depending on the cast, on the direction and on the concept. The dialogue especially can be very different.

I’ve put together the dialogue for this production over the years myself. Some of it is based on a version from the 1930s, so some of it plays like the Carole Lombard comedies of the ’30s, and some of it looks and plays more contemporary, like some of the Naked Gun movies Leslie Nielsen was in. It gets very silly sometimes in a cool comedic way.

How has the cast taken to their roles as comedians? Is that typical or atypical of an opera singer’s palette?

Well, that’s what takes time rehearsing. Comedy is not easy and you really have to work and routine it to make it look naturalistic and make it run fast. The timing of the jokes is in the music: The music and composer give you all the timing, the length of pitch and everything. It’s all about that timing and opera singers aren’t used to having to do that. We’ll spend so much time polishing the gags. It’s very much like Broadway in that respect.

How would you characterize the score of Die Fledermaus?

It is written by Johann Strauss and so the music in this is almost all waltzes; the entire piece is made up of a series of waltzes. There are some melodies that people will recognize if they remember any of the Tom and Jerry cartoons because they used some of this music every now and then. It’s very light, it’s effervescent, it’s gorgeous music. Sometimes too, the music is kind of funny!

What do you think will resonate most with audiences?

Well, a lot of the scenes of the piece involve intrigue, like all operas, but it is more of a family piece as well. It’s light, it’s beautiful and nowadays with everything going on in the world it’s nice to come to a comedy, to something that’s light and beautiful. It’s a very wonderful, very funny piece. We kind of need a comedy now, with the state of the world.

It’s a little Eyes Wide Shut if it were done as a socially awkward Woody Allen comedy, without all the heaviness of it. It’s fun, the costuming is beautiful. So much of the piece is about the comedy and the music and how that blends together. I think people will be surprised just how funny it is.

What should less casual opera fans keep an eye out for in this production? Or is there any insider’s knowledge you can provide?

There’s a character that shows up in Act II whose name is Prince Orlofsky. He is supposed to be a German prince who is hosting this very elaborate, somewhat decadent party at his palace. Even though it is a male prince, the role is sung by a woman — it is a “pants role,” which is largely traditional in a lot of opera. For example, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. But for some reason, if people don’t know that they get a little surprised because he is a very prominent character. We have a wonderful soprano, Amanda Crider, who’s doing this role and that’s one of the special things about the piece.

Die Fledermaus will be performed at 7:30 p.m. May 13 and 2:30 p.m. May 15 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $31 to $130 and can be purchased at 800-326-7372 or florentineopera.org.