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A Night at the Opera with Harper: Die Fledermaus and Masked Avengers

03/06/2015 04:12 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT

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I wonder if any judge in late 19th-century Vienna ever asked a woman to remove her mask? And what exactly is Prime Minister Harper's position on masked balls, those dens of iniquity where identities are disguised and potential terror is afoot?

Watching a Canadian production of die Fledermaus performed by Vancouver Opera spawned such oddball Canuck thoughts.

But Strauss's perennially popular frothy farce (ostensibly about a woman, Rosalinde, who disguises herself at a masked ball in order to expose her husband Eisenstein's philandering ways, and their chambermaid who attends as a gussied up "actress") is not without political merit.

After all, Johann Strauss II sided with the Austrian Revolutionaries of 1848 and was once arrested for playing La Marseillaise. Although the "waltz king" was later lauded by the Nazis for being "so German" -- his great-grandfather was actually a Hungarian Jew. He grew up in a single parent family when his father - Johan Strauss senior- abandoned them for his mistress, and his opera Die Fledermaus mocks authority and bourgeois values. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine him on a present day terror watch list.

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One thing is for sure, Harper would not have been much fun at Prince Orlovsky's ball.

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In keeping with the opera's tradition of announcing local celebrities as guests arriving at the ball (opening night saw the X Files' William B Davis and his wife arrive in style) it might be an idea to invite Stephen and Laureen. But I fear Harper would soon insist on a premature unmasking of the mysterious Hungarian contessa, thus revealing her true identity as Eisenstein's wife Rosalinde and ruining the third act.

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What's more, Harper might well send his CSIS spooks to investigate Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce Khoury (who played Rosalinde with great aplomb) resulting in her subsequent deportation and wrecking the plotline.

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He would then turn the rest of the party into a joyless affair, lecturing everyone on the war of 1812, arresting Prince Orlovzky for being a Putin sympathizer and then boring everyone with his renditions of old Beatles songs.

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He would proceed to transform the third act -- set in a prison -- into a sober morality tale, increasing Eisenstein's sentence for insulting a tax official and locking up his chambermaid for impersonating an actress. His final aria would be called "Let's get tough on crime."

Of course, depending on one's imagination and political disposition, there could be alternate endings. Justin Trudeau (not that physically dissimilar to the dashing Joahnn Strauss II, and also part of a father-son dynasty) could waltz in at the end to save the day, impressing all with his skill at the polonaise and distracting everyone from the Harper agenda. Cameos could feature Elizabeth May as one of the ballerinas, and Thomas Mulcair as an infiltrating Marquis. The Justin ending could still feature merriment and champagne for all.

Not sooo far fetched really to imagine such a Canadian production in these days of the drastically dropping loonie and the oil crash. After all, die Fledermaus premiered in the wake of a huge Viennese stock market crash that saw many of the nouveau riche whose foibles it skewered turn penniless overnight. Rather than shock with its haute-bourgeois antics, it actually provided a kind of nostalgic reminiscence of the boom days.

An oil-fields opera anyone? Perhaps set in Alberta?

Meanwhile in Vancouver, where foreign "investors" and inflated real estate prices seem to keep the bubble going for some, for the rest of us there is no respite to be had. At least the Viennese had lavish dance halls where they could waltz languidly into debt, amidst swan spotted grottos, and magnificent chandeliers. In no fun city, we must make due with more Presbyterian activities like paying visa bills and walking the seawall in the rain. Our obsessions are not so much Strauss mania, champagne and scandal but more mortgage rates and body fat ratios.

Thank God for Vancouver Opera, a welcome relief from all that, where a few hours at the Queen E Theatre and some $10 sparkling wine at intermission can give you a taste of 19th century-Vienna. And perhaps even a whole new perspective on the masked ball.