Of Champagne, Mistaken Identities, and Understudies
On April 5, 1874, the Theatre an der Wien in Vienna premiered a new operetta by Johann Strauss. The work was a comedic three-act revolving around a husband sentenced to a seven-day prison sentence who wants to delay the inevitable for one more day and a wife who wants to catch him in a lie. Over the course of one evening, they both end of up at the party of an eccentric Russian prince, each playing a different character and pretending they don’t know one another. During the course of the evening, their maid, Adele, also gets to take part, pretending to be a rising actress as well as the arresting officer Frank, who plays a Frenchman. This light-hearted work was known as Die Fledermaus. Performed in German for an Austrian audience, it was an instant success. Only months later, it was translated into English. The opera has been performed countless times since its premiered, loved by audiences for generations.
This summer, the Madison Savoyards will join the long list of companies who have presented this beloved work. For the Savoyard though, this work represents a milestone for the organization. Founded in 1963, the Savoyards have always presented Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and works as their summer main stage show. Fledermaus represents the first time that a non-G&S work will be performed as the summer main stage production. Throughout the year, non-G&S works have been presented in various capacities with the Savoyards, but never as the main stage production.
Other changes are underway for this year’s production. A shorter rehearsal schedule is among those changes, which is putting more emphasis on singer preparation outside of the rehearsals. The singers rehearse four days a week for four weeks before moving into Music Hall for the tech week as opposed to previous years where the process could be spread out over two months. During this time, the singers have staged the two-hour opera while coaching music, learning choreography, and having some laughs.
The cast features new and returning faces to the Savoyards stage. Soprano Erin K. Bryan returns to the Savoyards stage, this time as “Rosalinda,” the wife of Eisenstein who masquerades as a Hungarian countess in the Act II party scene in an attempt to catch her husband lying. Milwaukee-based tenor Tim Rebers will make his role debut as Eisenstein in this production. Other returning favorites to the Savoyards stage include Kirsten Larson (as “Prince Orlofsky,”) Alex Quakenbush (as Frank,”) Anmol Gupta (as “Dr. Blind”) and Tom Kastle (as “Frosch.”) New faces will also be taking on lead roles this summer on the Music Hall stage. These singers include Berlin, Germany based soprano Michelle Buck (who will make her role debut as the chambermaid turned actress “Adele,”) Nick Kapewski (as aspiring opera singer and recreational romantic interest of Rosalinda “Alfred,”) Ben Swanson (as the scheming “Dr. Falke,”) and Kirstin Roble (as Adele’s sister and dancer extraordinaire, “Sally.”)
The principals are wowing but the understudies, or covers also deserve a shout out with this production. For this production, all of the female roles and the role of Dr. Falke have covers. The covers will also help to fill out the chorus for the production performances.
What is a cover, you may ask? A cover is a singer (or actor) who is preparing the role simultaneously along with the principals. They attend all rehearsals and learn all blocking and choreography associated with the role. The only difference is that there is no guarantee that they will ever sing the role in performance, or even in rehearsal. This year’s cover cast includes four Madison based emerging and established artists. They are: Diana Kelly Eiler (Rosalinda,) Courtney Kaiser (Orlofsky,) Natalie Falconer (Sally,) Deanna Martinez (Adele,) and Jake Elfner (Dr. Falke.)
In rehearsal, these five will primarily be singing with the chorus but they are expected to be doing double duty, observing and taking note of their relative principal’s blocking along with their own. “It’s really difficult when you are in the same scene as the person singing the role,” explained Courtney Kayser in a recent interview. “ You have to really make as many mental notes as you while staying in your own scene or moment.” For a significant portion of Act II, the chorus is dancing in pairs or with very specific choreography. This is very different from what the principals are often doing, which creates a unique challenge and requires the covers to learn twice the amount of choreography at times.
Despite the challenges, all of the covers share the same excitement about being able to study a role from this fun operetta. “Rosalinda strikes me as the only one who gets it through the course of the production,” explained Diana Kelly Eiler with a laugh. “Even though Falke is also playing her in his scheme, she is always up on everything. It’s fun to get to be that character.” Deanna Martinez shares a similar enthusiasm for the role of Adele. “What I like most about Adele is that she’s clever sassy and has a lot of spunk. She gets into trouble over the course of the operetta but she always gets out of it using her wit,” explains Martinez. “I love how sassy she is.”
Though Die Fledermaus was originally written in German, it will be presented in English with Madison Savoyards. “We’ve added some fun, campy touches to make it true to the Madison culture,” explained Eiler. “It’s really fun that this is on those shows that you can modernize, which is what we are doing. Yes, it is campy at times, but it is also fun and relatable.”
Die Fledermaus runs July 20-29th at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Tickets can be purchased online at https://artsticketing.wisc.edu/online/article/diefledermaus18 or by calling 608-265-ARTS (2787). The ticket prices are $30 General, $28 Senior, $15 Youth / Student ID, $5 children 5 and under. A discount is available for groups of 10 of more.