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In her program notes for “Die Fledermaus,” director Dorothy Danner compares the giddy goings-on in Johann Strauss II’s perennially popular 1874 operetta to “dancing on the deck of the Titanic.”
That’s as good a description as any for this waltz-happy Viennese enterprise in which so little passes the logic test that ultimately — at least in the funny bone and the heart, if not in the head — everything seems to make perfect sense.
Danner and her large Virginia Opera company have bubbly magic to perform in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage today and Tuesday.
The trick: Make the audience feel as intoxicated by the nonsense on stage as the characters are intoxicated on the champagne that flows freely through three acts and finally is enthroned and exalted in music.
Presto: Danner and company are master magicians.
Comedically and musically, their production turns into a steamroller moving so merrily along that it crushes all objections beneath it.
Never mind that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was crumbling all around them. The denizens of “Die Fledermaus” are driven by the pursuit of pleasure and oblivious to consequences. They are living as if there was no tomorrow.
The plot, which hinges on revenge, beggars description.
Suffice it to say that “Die Fledermaus” is the sort of operetta — the singing in English gets supertitles, but the speaking in English doesn’t — in which a husband doesn’t recognize his wife because she’s wearing a mask at a ball.
Not only that, but the wife doesn’t immediately recognize her chambermaid, who is posing as an actress at the ball without a mask. Indeed, the husband opts out of going to prison in favor of attending the ball. And the clueless prison warden hauls the wrong man off to the pokey without a thought.
Before it all ends three hours after it begins, everything from a Chevrolet sedan to the strains of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” gets into the act.
And the last act is all but stolen by the zanily gifted Grant Neale, who, as the jailor, brings down the house again and again without singing a note.
The cast numbers nearly a dozen soloists adept at bouncing off one another. If one were to be singled out, it would be Sarah Jane McMahon, whose soprano takes coloratura flight at the slightest excuse and with the greatest of ease as chambermaid Adele.
The 20-member chorus handles its singing and dancing chores with equal aplomb and is ably abetted by three dancers in the Cossack mode. The large pit orchestra, courtesy of the Norfolk-based Virginia Symphony Orchestra, makes joyful noises aplenty under conductor Gary Thor Wedow.
This show looks great, too. Erhard Rom’s scenery, keyed to huge paintings of nude women in the Rubenesque mold, reinforces the decadence afoot. Many of the rented costumes are eye-catchers. And Eric Southern’s lighting picks up on every musical and comedic nuance and is especially effective in its occasional use of footlights.
“Die Fledermaus” is a joy.