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La Lunch was fa-fine: Piedmont Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ opens Friday

During lunch hour on March 27, every seat was filled at the Piedmont Club on the 19th floor of the BB&T Financial Center in Winston-Salem.
The food was fine, but what the crowd was really hungering for was knowledgeóabout opera!
The thing that brought together this room full of people of various ages and occupations was their common love of opera, their desire to learn more about Piedmont Opera’s next production, “Die Fledermaus,” and the chance to meet some of the stars of the show.
There’s a wonderful view from the windows of the Piedmont Club, overlooking downtown Winston-Salem and the Sauratown Mountains. The view inside was pretty great, too. Diane Alexander and Chris Burchett, two of the principals from the upcoming program, are the complete package. They are quite easy on the eyes in addition to being accomplished singers. And they are also fun, as their comments at the luncheon proved.
Maestro James Albritten got things rolling quickly with his animated talk, giving a brief portrait of composer Johann Strauss Jr., a little history and explanation of the difference between opera and operetta, and a quick and appealing synopsis of the plot of “Die Fledermaus.”
“There’s not a lot you have to bring to the theater to enjoy this opera,” Albritten said.
That’s because it’s being performed in English and the music is already well-known. “Every scene has a hit tune,” he said.
The show’s popularity, when it was written and now, also has a lot to do with the subject matter. The upper middle class was a rather new invention at that time in Vienna, and audiences were flocking to the familiar stories of lighter opera and less so to the loftier themes of grand opera.
In fact this trend had started even earlier as evidenced by one of Mozart’s lines in “Amadeus” ó “Wouldn’t you all rather listen to your hairdressers than Hercules?”
“Die Fledermaus” has all the elements of a funny farce with the unfaithful husband, Eisenstein; his charming wife, Rosalinda; her old flame, the tenor Alfred; an ambitious chambermaid, Adele; and a scheming friend, Dr. Falke. There’s crime, passion, marital infidelity, mistaken identities and a lot of humor.
The title “Die Fledermaus” means “The Bat.” Eisenstein had played a trick on Dr. Falke after a costume ball when, seeing Falke, who was dressed as a bat, was very drunk, left him asleep on a park bench in the middle of town. The doctor awoke to a crowd, and was given the nickname “the bat.” He plans revenge at a party being held by the famous Prince Orlofsky of Russia.
Of course, the party provides plenty of opportunity for wonderful waltz music by Strauss.
Alexander, who plays Rosalinda, has made a name for herself in operetta. This is her seventh production of “Die Fledermaus,” and she has been in 14 productions of “The Merry Widow.”
When she was asked by Albritten why she thinks she is in so much demand as an operetta artist rather than opera, Alexander laughingly said, “The word ‘pigeonholed’ comes to mind.” She said she’s also told that she has a very “American look” so she gets asked to do a lot of American works.
But she made a convincing point that operetta is more challenging than opera, with more movement, dancing and acting.
Another hurdle is that every opera company does a different translation of “Die Fledermaus,” so she has re-learn it each time a new way. She has never performed it in German.
She feels it’s important for American audiences to hear comic opera in English because having to read supertitles throws off the comic timing. Albritten said that the meter of German language translates more naturally into English than do Italian or French.
When Albritten introduced baritone Chris Burchett, who performs the role of the doctor, he pointed out that the two of them had attended the same schools and studied with the same teachers.
“And I thought, ‘He can’t be that bad!’ ” said the maestro, recalling his choice of Burchett for the role.
Burchett’s background is interesting in that he attended school as a mechanical engineering major with no classical music background. He had played trumpet in his school pep band, and appeared in plays. But it wasn’t until he took voice lessons in college that he discovered his gift for singing.
So after three years of studies in engineering, he started over as a vocal performance major. He marvels at the fact that he never got any grief from his parents for the decision.
Burchett is a recitalist, but pursued opera performance because he says it’s easier to get recital work if you’ve made your name in opera.
Alexander interrupted him.
“I think it’s the hair,” she said to Burchett. “You’ve got great opera hair.”
Albritten serves as both music director and stage director for this production. It’s unusual for one person to handle both jobs, but Burchett says this gives the rehearsal process more cohesiveness and there’s no disagreement.
“That’s because you don’t see the fights I have at home with myself,” Albritten quipped.
Piedmont Opera’s “Die Fledermaus” takes the stage at The Stevens Center in Winston-Salem 8 p.m. this Friday. There are also performances at 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Tickets range from $15-$70.
For tickets or more information, visit www.piedmontopera. org or call the box office at 336-724-3202.
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Contact Sarah Hall at shall@salisburypost.com or 704-797-4271.

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