People who don't like opera, which is mostly people who have never been to an opera, tend to think it's pompous and boring and incomprehensible, with music that's overblown and unmelodic.
Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus," which opens the fall season for Sarasota Opera, is the ideal antidote for toxic opinion. It's fast-paced and light-hearted, with a torrent of laugh-out-loud gags. Its characters are likable enough to spend time with, but just nasty enough that they're it's fun to watch them squirm when tables turn on them. And the music is as airy, and often as tuneful, as songs from Broadway musical.
But at the same time, it has all the elements that make grand opera such a treat: the luxuriant sets and costumes, the complex compositions and orchestrations and the rich voices that blend perfectly with the instruments.
"Die Fledermaus" is an operetta -- the most popular in the world, in fact -- so there's as much dialogue as there is singing, and it's performed in English. (When the performers are singing, the words still appear in supertitles.)
The plot has to do with womanizing aristocrat named Einsenstein. A friend decides to wreak revenge on him for a long-ago practical joke and invite him to a party, where he'll end up being humiliated.
There follows a whirlwind of mistaken identities, obfuscations and prevarications, all exacerbated by drunkenness.
Among the many standout performances are Sean Anderson as Eisenstein, with a powerful voice but an appealingly low-key stage presence; Danielle Walker, who wields a gorgeous soprano voice as his wife Rosalinda; Angela Mortellaro with a wonderful comedic performance as Adele, Eisenstein's chambermaid; and Blythe Gaissert who has a lovely mezzo-soprano voice but is acceptably believable in a male role.
Scenic designer David P. Gordon's sets drew deserved applause every time the curtain opened. Howard Tsvi Kaplan costumes were lovely and evocative and the Sarasota Orchestra, conducted by the Victor DeRenzi, sounded beautiful playing Strauss' sprightly dance music. Stage director Stephanie Sundine adds some really tasty touches, including a joke involving Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony."
There are two remaining performances of "Die Fledermaus," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 and 1:30 p.m. Friday, Nov.15. Tickets are $19-$125. You can also catch the entire cast in the opera' Operetta Concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Opera House, performing works by Strauss, Romberg, Coward, Gilbert & Sullivan and other greats of the genre. Tickets for that one are $15-$40.
Also on tap is Benjamin Britten's classic opera for Young people. "The Little Sweep," at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 and 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Nov. 10. Tickets are $10-$20.
All the performances are at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota. For information or tickets for any of those events, call 941-366-8450, or go to www.sarasotaopera.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.