With tones of Gustav Klimt and Sigmund Freud, Opera San Jose brings back a production of Die Fledermaus set during the “Belle Époque” this weekend. Stage director Marc Jacobs says Vienna around the turn of the 20th Century was fascinated by the new ideas of Freud and self-discovery, and the frothy operetta is full of characters posing as who they are not.
The tale of practical jokes, infidelity, and disguises gets rather convoluted, so as a shortcut, Jacobs takes advantage of the image of a gossip column being displayed before the production even starts. “During the overture, the audience is actually doing some homework, and reading these gossip articles, and they’re going, oh, there’s a famous tenor in Vienna, and he’s going to be singing for Prince Orlofsky, and this former opera singer who’s married to a banker is looking for a maid, and another article about her husband’s going to jail for bank fraud. So they’re already kind of getting the backstory.” The two societal and design influences on the production came from the time in which it’s set. “It was a time in Vienna where the two sort of cultural superstars were Gustav Klimt, who did those amazing gold-leaf paintings of women who always looked very inscrutable, and the other big superstar in Vienna at that time was Sigmund Freud… All of these people, all the characters in the play are kind of on a collision course to find themselves and each other while they’re pretending to be other people. And where they actually become more of who they really are.” And along with the golden influence of Klimt, there’s another metaphorical through line.”The image that I gave the designer was that the first set, which is supposed to be the Eisenstein home, we’re setting it in their conservatory, and it’s really like a big bird cage. There’s a lot of bird imagery in the show. In fact, the very first lines in the opera are an off-stage serenade by Rosalina’s former lover, who’s a big shot tenor, singing about ‘Little Bird, Fly From Your Cage.’” And, ironically, in the third act, they end up as jailbirds. “There’s something appropriate about the fact that these characters do all end up in a jail. Because everybody’s cheating on their husband, their lover, their employer, pretending to be someone else, and that’s where the consequences happen.”