The infectious melodies and lilting strains of the waltz king, Johann Strauss II, will ring through Temple’s Cultural Activities center this weekend as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Opera Cru performs “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat).
Dating from 1874, the three-act work is the most-performed operetta in the world and has been adapted more than a dozen times for TV and the cinema. Though the term “operetta” connotes a form of light opera, “Fledermaus” is no walk in the park. Besides the nine principals, “It’s a big company,” said George Hogan, UMHB’s ace opera professor. “There are 15 singers in the chorus and 25 musicians in the pit.”
Hogan will conduct singers and orchestra, and directing duties are handled by his wife, Penny Hogan, an assistant professor at UMHB. Both Hogans have extensive professional performing pedigrees encompassing real-world opera house experience, and that background lends gravitas to this ambitious undertaking.
The plot is a mash-up of mistaken identities, flirtations at a masked ball, elegant frivolities of all sorts, general confusion — transported and elevated by an intoxicating, captivating musical score. The celebrated overture is one of the most popular ever composed, a combination of five of the show’s best tunes woven into the framework of the great “Fledermaus Waltz.”
The school’s University Singers make up the chorus in Act 2, and Sarah Sanderford, a UMHB student, is stage manager for the production.
“Sarah has been invaluable,” Penny Hogan said. “There aren’t a lot of huge set pieces, but we do have two beautiful drops. (CAC technical director) Byron Lovelace has done a great job with the lighting design.”
Unlike most operas, operettas typically have spoken dialogue between the songs, and in the original “Fledermaus” the lines were colloquial Viennese German. UMHB’s version has English dialogue authored by George Hogan. “We’ve made just a few cuts in the show. With three acts and intermissions it runs under three hours,” he said. “Some parts are double cast, and it’s a challenge for everyone involved.”
Penny Hogan underlined the operetta’s comic appeal. “Besides the wonderful waltzes there are vaudeville moments with lots of comedy. People will leave laughing.” The “bat” referenced in the title is a party costume worn by one character that passes out drunk and is left on a park bench overnight, forced to a humiliating hung-over morning walk home through the city dressed as a bat.
New Year’s Eve celebrations have often included stagings of “Fledermaus,” George Hogan said. “It’s the kind of experience where you lose track of minutes and hours — just forget about everything and have a great time.”
Students who won roles in the show were assigned their parts last summer, and with months of rigorous preparation, they’re ready for curtain time. “After Sunday’s matinee, spring break starts,” Hogan said with a smile. “And I think we’re all ready for it.”