Schmaltz and waltz; Worcester Opera Works presents delightful `Die Fledermaus'.
Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" has been called "the champagne of operas." However, Jacque Eileen Wilson has not gone about being stage director of the upcoming Worcester Opera Works production in a light-headed fashion. This is the mezzo-soprano opera singer's directorial debut, and she's taking it seriously.
Still, it looks like there might be a lot of harmonious things to raise a toast to Friday night.
"It's been absolutely wonderful," Wilson said during a recent interview of the experience with the production so far. "Die Fledermaus" will be performed fully staged at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Warner Theatre at Worcester Academy. The cast is a strong one, including Richard Monroe, Sepp Hammer, Elaine Crane, Rebecca Grimes, Ted Blaisdell, Lisa Woods and special musical guest Jane Shivick. John Leslie is musical director. Wilson is familiar with a number of the performers because she has sung alongside them in area operatic productions, including previous operas put on by WOW. Indeed, she was in the company's first fully staged production, "The Marriage of Figaro," in 2007.
"It's amazing to see the level of singers and the collegiality," Wilson said. "It's an awesome group of people to work with. It makes you want to come back whether as an actor or director."
"Die Fledermaus" was first performed in 1874 in Vienna. The plot centers around a ball where a ruse is played on Gabriel von Eisenstein (Monroe), who has been guilty of some "improprieties." So besides actual champagne there's also infidelity, frivolity, elaborate costumes, confusions and disguises. The music is spirited, exuberant, magnificent.
But how do you retain and convey the spirit of the piece, written around the intoxicating time of the "Belle Epoque" in Vienna in the late 19th century? Rather than a starchy recreation, Wilson has elected to recreate "Die Fledermaus" in Boston in the early 1930s.
"Theater meets opera" is her vision of the production, which will be sung like opera but performed like musical theater with a good deal of dancing and comedic acting (including slapstick) onstage. Dancers from Cornerstone Performing Arts will also be taking the stage.
One thing Wilson wants to do is "let the characters be fully developed. In opera sometimes characters can be one-dimensional." In this production, comedic timing will be crucial. "You want to keep it all really clear so that all the lines are in sync," Wilson said.
Wilson has the perspective of having performed in "Die Fledermaus," playing Prince Orlovsky, a role for a mezzo-soprano. "It was really fun to approach it having done it, and have my own take on it," she said of taking the operetta on as a director.
Originally from California, Wilson came East to study at the Boston Conservatory, where she received her master's degree in opera performance. She also met her husband out here, and now lives in Framingham.
Among her operatic roles are Meg in the New England Premiere of Mark Adamo's "Little Women," Meg Page in Verdi's "Falstaff," Herself in the West Coast premiere of "The Proposal" and Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro." On the concert stage she has been a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Musica da Camera, Metrowest Symphony Orchestra and Parkway Concert Orchestra. Meanwhile, Wilson teaches voice at the Jeanne Drum Academy of Music in Northboro, and is an artist voice faculty member at the University of Southern Maine. "As a singer and teacher, you piece-meal it together and have a career," she said.
Asked what she thinks about the opera scene in Massachusetts, she said "a lot of regional companies are starting up. There are not a lot of big companies, but the area is really thriving with young regional companies."
These include Opera del West of Natick, which was founded by "Die Fledermaus"
cast member Grimes (playing Adele), and WOW, co-founded by cast member Crane (Rosalinda), who is the company's executive director.
Wilson said she and Crane were talking a few months ago about "Die Fledermaus." Wilson was about to have a child, and wasn't sure how much singing she was willing to take on in the immediate future. On the other hand, "I have always thought about directing," she said.
Rehearsals started late April.
"I think it's shown me as an actor and singer how hard it is to put a production together. ... As a director you have to see everyone's relationship with everyone," she said.
"I come to rehearsal with an idea in mind and give that rough kind of picture to the actors," Wilson said of her directorial approach. "I had a sense of what they were going to give me. I feel like as a director it's important to give people a broad canvass with which to play with."
Asked if she's had dictatorial directors as a performer, she said, "I have, and it doesn't help you as an actor, to really let your creative juices flow. I feel it almost stifles my performance a little bit."
Wilson's opted for a collaborative model. "I really let it come from them rather than me saying `well this is this, and they're feeling this.'"
And this is, after all, "Die Fledermaus."
"It's very, very fun," she said about the operetta when all is said and done. "One of the cast members said (recently), `I don't think I've ever had so much fun doing an opera.'"
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Warner Theatre, Worcester Academy, 81 Providence St., Worcester
How much: $20; $10 students Grades 12 and under. (508) 930-7062; www.worcesteroperaworks.com
CUTLINE: (1) Pictured at rehearsals recently for "Die Fledermaus" are Elaine Crane and Richard Monroe, above, and Ted Blaisdell, at right. (2) Jacque Eileen Wilson will be making her directorial debut.
PHOTOG: Submitted Photos