Knoxville Opera Presents Die Fledermaus: An Opera Virgin’s Report

Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

If you had no background in popular music and you heard your first song, how hard would that be to describe? If you’d never read a book and you picked up a random literary work, what would you compare it to? The list could go on. In short, I have never attended the opera, but thanks to a generous gift I was able to do so. Ironically, this production is an operetta and I performed in several in high school, so it seemed more familiar than I expected. So, noting my ignorance from the beginning, I’ll tell you what I saw and what I thought.

Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012
Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

The first impression through the front door, as always, had to be the beauty and grandeur of the Tennessee Theatre and the debt of gratitude we owe to the people who paid for its most recent renovations. The place is simply spectacular and makes a person feel just a little special to be there. I still have that feeling every time and I’ve been inside the theatre more times than I can count. My only complaint is that it isn’t generally open for me to show it to friends and family who visit.

The crowd clearly trended older and better dressed than either of the Urban family members present. The fact was emphasized by the woman who very strongly encouraged us to come to the upcoming ball at Cherokee Country Club, pointing out that they really want to involve a younger demographic, meaning us. I’m rarely described as a younger demographic. In fact I’m a good decade or more past that point.

Masks were Encouraged, Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

One of the obstacles is money. While tickets for performances may be purchased for as little as $18, these seats are not the best and the next price up is $44, moving to nearly $100 for the best seats. The seats we were given cost $85. Tickets to the ball, mentioned above, run $200 each. It’s easy to see why the cost is so high: With costuming, sets, orchestra, actors/signers and rental of the theatre, ticket sales only supplement the expense involved. Still, it’s hard to get people to pay that much to try something new, maybe a bit foreign to those things to which they are accustomed.

The orchestra played what I presume would be Strauss pieces before the operetta, Die Fledermaus, written by the composer. This is where the balcony seats paid off. I enjoyed watching the orchestras as much as listening to them and I doubt they were visible from the floor. Their work throughout the evening proved very enjoyable.

Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

For a legitimate review of the operetta itself, I suggest you go here or  here, but I’ll give myself and Urban Woman a little credit: the things we enjoyed the most were the most praised by the review: The orchestra, the fantastic sets and costumes, Kevin Anderson as Alfred and overwhelmingly the best part of the night: John Forrest Ferguson as Frosch, the jailer. Hilarious and easy to understand, he stole the show in a minor role.

The show included captions above the stage, which were very helpful (and aren’t visible from the $18 seats). I would not have guessed how important they might be given that the show used English exclusively and actually had spoken dialog. It turns out the singing is nearly non-intelligible to my ears and the speaking sometimes wasn’t much better. It makes me willing to try an opera in Italian because, at the end of the night, I don’t think it would be that much more difficult. Still, Die Fledermaus was easy to follow thanks to the sketched plot in the program and the captions. I suspect that would be the case in a more serious work.

Set for Scene III and cast, Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

The reason the photographs are so limited in this post is because of the explicit warnings against any photography during the performance – including with cell phones. They were blunt enough on the issue and I was timid enough in an unaccustomed environment that I did what they said. It’s a pity: with the vantage we had, I could have taken some excellent shots and made this review much better.

Another touch that the referenced review above neglected to mention was a fun interlude in Scene Two in which locally known celebrities including Johnny Majors and his wife, and Hallerin Hill with Madeline Rogero, dancing to the sounds of the Tennessee Waltz as sung by Logan Ashley Murrell who many of us have watched grow before our very eyes as a singing phenomenon. Her performance and their insertion to the ball scene put a spark of fun into the opera and was very well received.

Closeup of Cast, Tennessee Theatre, Die Fledermaus, Knoxville, October 2012

Our final verdict: We had a great time. We dressed up a little bit more than usual (I could have gone a little further in that regard) and had a special night out unlike most of our evenings in the city. We could never afford to attend on a regular basis on our budget, but it certainly is something that will be given consideration as an occasional treat. I’d encourage you to try it if you can afford to do so. I’d also like to offer a final and huge “thank you” to the wonderful couple who offered their seats for a night. We will always appreciate it greatly.