Opéra Louisiane comedy puts local celebrities on stage

When Opéra Louisiane opens “Die Fledermaus” on Friday, there will be some familiar faces in one scene — and they won’t be the singers.

In this final production of the season, guests in the grand ball scene will be a crew of local celebrities, including radio host Jim Engster, The Advocate’s Smiley Anders, chef and host of “Bite and Booze” radio show Jay Ducote, jewelry designer Mignon Faget, Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra Maestro Timothy Muffitt, Louisiana Public Broadcasting President and CEO Beth Courtney, LSU voice professor and opera tenor Robert Grayson and internationally known businessman Jim Bernhard.

“Traditionally, celebrities are featured in the ball scene, and some even perform,” says Leanne Clement, Opéra Louisiane’s executive director.

“It’s going to be a fun scene,” adds Music Director Michael Borowitz. “I’m already adding music for some of the guests.”

And you, too, can join the merriment. A special $500 ticket will buy a seat at a table with the local celebs where you can watch the action from within the scene.

Clement promises it is going to be a great show.

“‘Die Fledermaus’ has been an audience favorite throughout the years, because it’s so much fun,” she says.

Johann Strauss’ operetta premiered on April 5, 1874, at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna and is filled with dance, masquerades, confusion and mistaken identity.

The story opens with Gabriel von Eisenstein, who has been sentenced to eight days in prison for insulting a public official. He is about to report to jail when his friend, Falke, stops by with an invitation to Prince Orlofsky’s ball. Eisenstein decides to make a detour to the party.

Little does he know the ball is an elaborate practical joke engineered by Falke as payback for when Falke awoke one morning as a laughingstock. He’d passed out drunk in the town square dressed as a bat, which, in German, is “Die Fledermaus.” This show, however, will be in English.

Falke had been out partying with Eisenstein, who’d left him there, and now it’s payback time.

So begins the fun of the ball, where everyone but Eisenstein knows who’s who. And most familiar with these identities and alter egos is Kathy Pyeatt, who portrays Rosalinda, Eisenstein’s wife. It’ a role she also played in the St. Petersburg Opera’s 2011 production of “Die Fledermaus.”

“That production was fun, but I’m having more fun with this one,” Pyeatt says. “The director of St. Petersburg production had a different interpretation of Rosalinda. He saw her as a good wife who wouldn’t be persuaded by Alfredo to fool around.”

Dennis Jesse is directing Opéra Louisiane’s production and sees Rosalinda in a different light.

“He sees her as a game player, and that’s how I see her,” Pyeatt says. “She’s out having fun. It’s all lighthearted, and no one is hurt in the end.”

Pyeatt lives in Milwaukee, Wis., with her husband and daughter, who will be traveling to Baton Rouge for the performance. Baton Rouge will be new to her family, but it’s not for Pyeatt. Her uncle and aunt lived in the Capital City.

“My uncle taught at LSU,” Pyeatt says. “I’d visit them during the summer when I was growing up.”

Now Pyeatt’s soprano career takes her to different cities throughout the United States.

“My family usually meets me in the cities where I’m performing,” she says. “My daughter sometimes wants me just to be at home, but then I say, ‘Yeah, but look at all the cool places you get to see.’ And she says, ‘You’re right.’”

But home is important to Pyeatt, and she’ll spend the summer performing in Milwaukee. First, though, Rosalinda is on her radar, as is the rest of the gang who are out to trick Eisenstein, which includes Plano, Texas, mezzo soprano Erin Roth as Orlofsky; central Florida baritone Brent Turner as Eisenstein; and Baton Rouge soprano Jessica Cates as Adele.

Add to that local chorus and orchestra members, and the show is complete.

“Kelly Smith Toney helps us choose our orchestra members,” Borowitz says. “She one of the best violinists in town, and she’s the concert mistress for the Louisiana Sinfonietta. She loves opera and Opéra Louisiane. We give her the dates of our performances, and she knows which musicians are playing where.”

“Die Fledermaus” is as popular with musicians as it is with performers and audience members.

“The premise of this opera is, ‘I’m going to get you back,’” Borowitz says. “Everyone will recognize the music, and everyone will have a great time laughing.”