Vienna Native Goes to Bat for Strauss, Marley
It's perfect typecasting: Viennese-born George Cleve makes his Lamplighters Music Theatre conducting debut in the most Viennese of operettas, Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
The conductor — who has been living with the ultra-popular musical through all the decades even after his life-saving departure from Vienna at age two — will have the original music and a slightly skewed version of the whole Gemütlichkeit, the untranslatable charming nature of the story. But it will not be a journey to hell, as librettist David Scott Marley had once envisioned the work before.
Marley previously turned Lecockq's La Fille du Madame Angot into a bawdy satire of current American politics as Daughter of the Cabinet; retold Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri in the style of a low-budget 1950s sci-fi movie crossed with a modern graphic novel, and called it The Riot Grrrl on Mars; and most recently converted Mozart's Die Zauberflöte into the The Manga Flute a musical fantasy about the opera's characters in a setting of manga and anime, Japanese graphic novels and animated films.
Back in 1996, Marley set Die Fledermaus in Berkeley in what he then thought to be "the last crazy years of the dot-com boom" (a dozen years before the much crazier years of social media billionaires), and called it Bat out of Hell.
That was for Berkeley Opera, and this time the call came from the Lamplighters to adopt his adoptation anew and (this will be denied by all) making it just a bit more guarded avant-garde, something he calls "more traditional."
Marley is straightforward (and correct) about the original libretto:
I love Die Fledermaus and from the start it had been my intention that I would someday get around to writing a more traditional English-language version as well, one that would stay fairly close to the original setting. It was always in the back of my mind, but I didn't do anything about it for many years. To be honest, a completely faithful translation of the original libretto would be difficult to make work today.
As is so typical of 19th century theater, it's a long script with long dialogue scenes. The story satirizes the people, class distinctions, and social conventions of 19th-century Vienna, which are not so familiar to us now as they once were. That was a big part of why I had moved the story to modern times in Bat out of Hell. Still, I wanted to give it a try one of these days.
A couple of years ago, Marley wrote English dialogue for Opera San José's production, which kept the lyrics in the original German. (Demurring that "I'm not wild about opera productions that switch back and forth between English and foreign language.") Now, for the Lamplighters, it will be all in English and all Marley:
When it was time for me to start writing lyrics for the musical numbers, I decided to keep the 1890s setting. This, then, is Die Fledermaus, or The Bat Bites Back. Not exactly the close translation of the original libretto that I had originally thought I'd be writing. But I think it captures the fun and the affectionate satire of the original. I owe many thanks to Barbara Heroux and the cast of this production for their help in polishing up the completed libretto.
Heroux, artistic director emeritus, is director of the production that tours the area from Walnut Creek to Yountville to Livermore to Mountain View to San Francisco.
Doublecast, the production features Jennifer Ashworth and Lindsay Thompson Roush as Rosalinde; Maya Kherani and Elisabeth Russ as Adele; Elliot Franks and Anna Yelizarova as Orlofsky; Martin Lewis as Eisenstein, Mark Kratz as Alfred, and William Neely as Dr. Falke.
Surprisingly, it will be the first time for Cleve to conduct Die Fledermaus anywhere, in any version. "It just hasn't come up before." He enjoys Marley's version tremendously, and says admiringly: "Scott even managed to get something Noël Cowardish in there."
After the lengthy Fledermaus run, Cleve will return to the composer he's been always identified with, conducting Opera San José's Don Giovanni.