Johann Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus” is a confection as delightful as a slice of Sacher torte topped with a big dollop of schlag.
Strauss’ whipped cream score, along with the naughty plot, have made “Die Fledermaus” a perennial audience favorite. The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will present the Viennese classic for four performances beginning this Saturday in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.
The libretto for “Die Fledermaus” is drawn from a German farce and a French vaudeville, but Strauss gave it a distinctive Austro-Hungarian stamp.
The plot revolves around Gabriel von Eisenstein and his wife, Rosalinde. After years of marriage, they’ve become bored with each other, but their humdrum existence is about to get some much-needed excitement.
Eisenstein, who is sentenced to serve an eight-day prison term for insulting an official, skips jail and instead goes to a masked ball, which Rosalinde, costumed as a Hungarian countess, is also attending.
Even though the plot plays with the theme of adultery, baritone Liam Bonner, who sings the role of Eisenstein, thinks the story is actually a celebration of Eisenstein and Rosalinde’s love for each other.
“The joy of it is that they rediscover one another and their natural attraction and desire to be with one another,” he said. “They may have been in this stale relationship, but it’s not so much that they want to be with somebody else. They’re still drawn to one another, and I think that’s the whole positive aspect of this story. In the end they reconcile. Maybe a little role-play was all they needed.”
Bonner, who began his career as a performer in musical theater, earned his Actors’ Equity card with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. He thinks his background in musicals serves him well when he tackles an operetta like “Die Fledermaus.”
“I’ve had dance training and vocal training and now I’m able to reconnect with all of that and find those things again,” he said. “In ‘Die Fledermaus’ there’s singing and dancing at the same time. You’ve got to have your stamina. You can’t be huffin’ and puffin’ and sounding out of breath. I go back to my musical theater training when I do this opera, or roles like this. I feel like it’s suited me quite well.”
The sumptuous sets for the Lyric’s “Die Fledermaus” were designed by R. Keith Brumley. Brumley designed his first production for the Lyric, Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” in the fall of 1984. For 30 years Brumley has designed one or two productions a year for the Lyric, including a very memorable “Die Walkure” in 1991.
“We did ‘Walkure’ in the Music Hall during the time when the Lyric got condemned out from under us,” Brumley said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that three weeks before opening night, we had a catastrophic fire in the scene shop that burned up two-thirds of the set.
“So in that three-week period we rebuilt the production and got it onstage. It was an extraordinary effort on the part of the crews, and I felt really privileged to be a part of that experience.”
When reminded that “Die Walkure” ends with the Magic Fire Music, Brumley remarked “The gods of drama have an ironic sense of humor.”
As Brumley approaches his 30th anniversary with the Lyric, his creativity and passion for his job are as strong as ever. As director of design and technical production, Brumley performs duties far beyond designing. His expertise is required on every production, whether he designed it or not.
“I’m in charge of making sure that every show that comes into the theater fits correctly on the stage,” he said. “I interact with all of the stage directors to make sure that they feel that they’re getting the best possible experience. I work hand in hand with the properties department to make sure that any special props that are wanted are things that are appropriate for the show.
“I’m in weekly staff meetings. I participate in the search for scenery. I take part in discussions about future repertory. I’m also in charge of all of the trucking to get scenery from other companies to us. I also oversee when our sets go out to other companies.”
For “Die Fledermaus,” however, Brumley has a much more creative role. The Lyric decided to take a set previously used in productions of “Andre Chenier” and “Un Ballo in Maschera” and revamp it for “Die Fledermaus.”
Brumley says all three feature scenes in a grandiose ballroom, although for the current production, Brumley is tweaking the set.
Brumley has designed sets for “Fledermaus” before for the Des Moines Metro Opera, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance and what he calls a “very, very wild art deco production” for the Lyric Opera in 1999. This is a work he’s very familiar with and fond of.
‘Die Fledermaus’ is a charming piece that demands little but gives a lot to the audience,” he said. “It’s like a good Puccini in the fact that it’s easy to grab on to. There’s a lot of eye candy and wonderful tunes and a fair amount of PG comedy.
“It’s going to be a stage full of color and comedy, brilliant costumes and this lush, delicious music. What’s not to like?”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30 and May 2 and 2 p.m. May 4 at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ Muriel Kauffman Theatre. $15-$155. 816-471-7344 or kcopera.org. Harriman-Jewell: Yevgeny Sudbin
Yevgeny Sudbin, who just turned 34, has already made his mark as one of the most exciting pianists of his generation. He has studied with great luminaries like Claude Frank, Leon Fleisher and Murray Perahia and, based on reviews of his performances around the world, seems poised to join them as a legend of the keyboard. He first appeared on a Harriman-Jewell Discovery Concert in 2009, and now the rest of the world has discovered Sudbin.
In addition to a jam-packed international touring career, Sudbin has signed a seven-year, 14-album record deal with BIS Records. He’s making a return visit on the Harriman-Jewell Series Saturday night with what promises to be an outstanding recital.
Sudbin will perform a program of music by Domenico Scarlatti, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Frederic Chopin and Alexander Scriabin, a composer with whom he has quite an affinity. Sudbin’s recordings of the mystical Russian composer’s piano works are intense and spiritually charged. This promises to be one of the most important piano recitals of the year.
8 p.m. Saturday at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $20-$65. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org. Gamelan Genta Kasturi
Gamelan Genta Kasturi is one of Kansas City’s treasures. How many cities can boast of having a resident ensemble that performs authentic Balinese gamelan music on one of the most gorgeous sets of instruments you’ve ever laid eyes on?
The Charlotte Street Foundation has acknowledged the value of Gamelan Genta Kasturi by awarding the group a grant so it can keep its instruments tuned, a highly specialized task.
With the grant, Gamelan Genta Kasturi has brought in I Made Kartawan, a tuner, composer and master gamelan musician, to tune the instruments and teach the musicians. You can hear Kartawan lead the ensemble in a special, free concert Saturday afternoon at the Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park at 12th and Walnut streets.
Gamelan Genta Kasturi will perform a piece written for it by Kartawan that explores the modality available on the group’s Semaradana gamelan. Traditional and modern Balinese dance will also be part of the program.
3 p.m. Saturday at Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park, 12th and Walnut streets. For more information, visit gamelangentakasturi.org or charlottestreet.org/urban-culture-project/openstudios.