U of O production turns classic opera into fun-filled musical

Photo: Marta Kierkus

Two University of Ottawa music students have turned the opera into a scandalous Hollywood soap opera.

The upcoming production of Die Fledermaus features champagne, mistaken identity, love triangles, and a number of illegal and illicit activities. For first-year master of music performance student Maria Bamford, it’s the very same opera that first inspired her years ago.

Much of that influence came from the hard work of the older performers in her vocal studio at the University of British Columbia. That’s where she completed her undergraduate degree in music in 2008, specializing in voice and opera.

Bamford says the “tuneful melodies and large dance sequences” of the U of O’s version of Die Fledermaus make it fun for all, opera fan or not. “It’s like a musical and therefore accessible to everyone,” she says. It’s a lighter form of opera called an operetta, she explains, which has more links to satire with light and amusing plot lines.

Sandra Graham, a U of O professor and the artistic director and choreographer of Die Fledermaus, says the production has done away with much of the historical context of the original in lieu of a grand old time.

“You don’t have to understand anything to laugh,” she says. “I’ve set the production in the roaring ‘20s rather than Vienna, Austria in the late 1800s. People are drinking throughout the opera—which is outrageous because it’s prohibition time.”

Bamford says it’s been easy enough to learn her parts on her own, but the hard part is bringing everyone together under a unified vision. “Every rehearsal is a struggle,” she says with a laugh. Bamford explains that it is easy to learn your part alone, however the hard part is working together to create one unified vision. “Each person’s contribution to the opera, from chorus to leads, is essential, everyone must realize this and give it their all to make the production successful.”

Rachel Lloyd, a second-year undergraduate studying music, celebrates this show as her first operatic role playing a count. Lloyd was cast as the only mezzo role, Count Orlovsky, who is a man. While preparing for the pants role, the term opera singers use for male roles performed by women, she says, “I had to learn to walk like a man to make the comedy and the story convincing, while at the same time pretending to be drunk.”

For Graham who has also sung in Die Fledermaus professionally says there are many obstacles vocalists learn and overcome through performing, which will be learnt through this production at U of O. “As a singer you’re doing it every moment you’re on stage. You have to have to count on yourself to overcome each moment.”

Die Fledermaus plays from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 at the Alumni Auditorium in the UCU.