Sweetly sung and sublimely silly, waltz king Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus takes the operatic notions of mistaken identity and dangerous liaisons and turns them on their ears.
"It's bubbly and frothy, like champagne," said John Hoomes, the director of the Augusta Opera production, which opens Thursday. "Now, the problem with champagne is, if it isn't treated correctly, it goes flat. The same can be said of this. It's a challenge to keep this bubbly."
The operetta's twisting plot of missed connections and complex schemes provides the piece with generous laughs. Mr. Hoomes said it's a story that needs little artistic embellishment.
"That's why we're taking this back to its broad, French farce roots," he said. "I mean, it can be played as sort of a Masterpiece Theater drawing room comedy of manners, but to me, that's the kiss of death. This is a lot like the old Carol Burnett Show - very broad and something very different from what people expect from an evening at the opera house."
Eric van Hoven, who plays prison-bound noble Gabriel von Eisenstein, said the nature of Fledermaus requires performers to become acquainted with the rhythms of comedy but allows them to discard deep-thinking character development.
"That's something we were told in the first rehearsal - there is no subtext," he said. "And really, that's a great thing for the audience. The audience gets exactly what is put in front of them."
Although much of the humor is nearly vaudevillian, Die Fledermaus remains musically complex and compelling.
"It's not an easy piece vocally," said Diane Alexander, who plays a wife flirting with infidelity. "There is some serious singing involved. There's a real balance that must be struck, between the lightness and the technical aspects of the singing."
Mr. Hoomes said the delicate balance between high art and lowbrow humor has been the secret of Die Fledermaus's continued popularity.
"It's just setup, setup, joke," he said. "And it's great when it works. It's like a game of operatic volleyball."
THE PERFORMANCE: Die Fledermaus, presented by the Augusta Opera
THE DATES: 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, Jan. 31, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1
THE VENUE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
THE COST:$15-$45. Call 826-4710
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.