Sneak Preview: Westmont's Die Fledermaus
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One week from opening night this Friday, March 2 at Santa Barbara’s New Vic Theater, the Westmont cast and pit orchestra of Die Fledermaus came together for their first joint rehearsal in Porter’s black box theater. The rehearsal was set simply: the eighteen-piece chamber orchestra staged in the front of the seated cast. As the first sitzprobe, German for “sit and sing,” between the cast and orchestra, the vocalists quickly adjusted to balancing their voices with the lively orchestral support.
What first premiered in Vienna on April 5, 1874, as a dramatic musical comedy, Die Fledermaus has been reinvented under the contemporary directorship of John Blondell and support of the Westmont orchestra and cast of diverse musical theater and classical training backgrounds. In light of limited rehearsal time of five weeks due to evacuation, this production of Die Fledermaus takes a tight, compressed, focused, but comedic and avant-garde approach to the classic operetta. As Blondell commented in a recent interview, “I don’t create predetermined concepts. I think that a concept is something you have at the end and so you start at the beginning with some very simple decisions and you slowly develop and you grow the thing organically.”
Westmont sophomore John Butler experienced the outcome of Blondell’s approach in discovering his character, Falke, “I intentionally didn’t look at any outside sources [...] because I wanted to keep it organic in the character and grow into the character [...] I probably went through three or four different characters in the production. John has really guided me in the direction of his vision and two nights ago we found it. It was crazy because it was nothing I had thought or would have conceived.”
In terms of compacting what is usually a three-hour-long evening of opera, Blondell has stripped away the “extraneous” details of the in-between dialogue in exchange for visual dialogue. Westmont sophomore Carolyn Gruss and ensemble member (Minni) commented in regards to the compressed rendition, “In a lot of ways we’re kind stripping things away to provide space for what really is important [...] The musical is acting as the vehicle for most of the communication that way so it really centers everything around the songs and the principle.”
In many of his productions, including last semester’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, John Blondell expands the diegetic world by incorporating musicians into the visual field of the stage to create a full sensory experience. This version of Die Fledermaus is no different. The pit orchestra comprised of Westmont musicians directed by music director Dr. Michael Shasberger will be center stage and integrated into each act, fitted with costumes by costume designer Lynne Martens.
This operation of Die Fledermaus will not simply conform to what may be expected of an opera nor lose its heart towards tradition, even for, as Dr. Shasberger stated, “Opera officianandos,” but rather provide a fresh and contemporary experience that will also appeal to inexperienced opera attendees. As the company excitedly approaches opening night, Dr. Shasberger commented, “What a young cast does is bring a freshness and spontaneity to a performance, and to John Blondell’s approach of setting aside stereotypes and creating unexpected dramatic scenarios and scenic windows to engage in without the barriers of tradition. You don’t have to assume anything. You don’t have to have opera baggage to appreciate this.”
Die Fledermaus will be showing 7:00 pm Friday, March 2nd and 7th at New Vic Theater. Tickets are available for $17 for GA and $12 for students/seniors at 965-5400; online at www.newvictheater.com.