JAN. 23, 2003
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

California State University, Bakersfield's Performing Arts Department is treating the community to one of the world's most popular light operas.  "The Gypsy Baron," Johann Strauss's famed comic opera, is scheduled for a two-night run Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in the Dore Theatre on the CSUB campus. The curtain rises both nights at 8 p.m.

"Everyone is really pitching in to make this a spectacular show," said CSUB music professor Peggy Sears, who is the music director for the show. "It will be a gala event."

CSUB's chamber orchestra, Musica da Camera, under the direction of music professor Gordon Mehling, will perform the score, with a mix of CSUB music students, alumni and community members singing the parts.

"We have some simply wonderful talent," Sears said. "The cast is very fine - about half students and the other half alumni. They're all connected to the university in one way or another.

"The music is so beautiful, and it has amazing finales. The cast has just done a superb job. We produce an opera once every three years. Operas are expensive to produce, but we're just trying to give our students the broadest possible education over their years here. We've done Mozart, contemporary American, Menotti, but we haven't done an opera from the Romantic Period (late 1800s) such as this one."

Mehling, who has studied and performed in Vienna, said "The Gypsy Baron" is one of the most popular operas at the Volksoper in Vienna. The Volksoper, or People's Opera, is the second largest opera in Vienna, next to the world renowned Staatsoper, or Vienna State Opera. "It's a favorite," he said. "The three favorite operas performed there are (Mozart's) 'The Magic Flute, (Franz Lehar's) 'The Merry Widow,' and 'The Gypsy Baron.'"

Attendees at the Volksoper are a bit more boisterous than at the more formal and reserved Staatsoper, Mehling said. "They don't just go to listen. They sing along!"

Sears isn't expecting an echo from the Bakersfield audience, but said the cast is enjoying working toward opening night. "We're having fun, and it's been really a lot of fun working with the cast and the chorus. All the singers are doing a great job."

Another attraction for Sears, the director, is that the piece has nine principal singing parts. "We want to provide the most experience for the most number of people," she said.

Mary Bellah, a senior music education major from Frazier Park who sings the part of Saffi, a gypsy girl, said the opera "is a wonderful opportunity. The whole cast is just a great group of people. We'll miss each other when it's over."

Bellah, who has a double emphasis in voice and piano, said the scope of producing an opera is staggering. "It floored me the amount of work everyone has to put in to pull it off," she said.

"The Gypsy Baron" offers excellent entertainment for both the opera aficionado and the novice, Sears said. "It's light opera, or operetta, so it has dialogue," she said. "We're singing it in English, so people will understand what's happening. For those who are not familiar with opera, this would be a good one to start with."

The storyline for "The Gypsy Baron," which was first produced on Oct. 24, 1885, goes like this:

The so-called Gypsy Baron, Sandor Barinkay, who left his home when a lad, returns to find it desolate and in possession of gypsies. His nearest neighbor is Zsupan with whose daughter Arsena he decides to wed purely for property reasons. She orders him never to call upon her again as a suitor until he can come as a baron.

Barinkay goes off in a rage to the gypsies, who adopt him and make him their Waywolde, or gypsy baron. He falls in love with Saffi, a gypsy girl, and marries her, gypsy-style. In the second act he finds a hidden treasure, but upon finding out that Saffi is actually a Hungarian princess, he turns the gold over to the Austrian war chest. He then sets off to war to prove himself worthy of Saffi. In the last act he returns with the victorious troops to Vienna, is made a real baron for his bravery and can finally live happily ever after with his princess.

An opening-night gala is being hosted by the Fine Arts Committee of the CSUB Foundation to raise funds for the Fine Arts Merit Award Scholarship Fund. "The money will be going toward an endowed scholarship for a performing arts major," Sears said.

Tickets for the gala, which cost $100 per person, include a champagne reception and dinner served in the Albertson Room adjacent to the Dore Theatre prior to the performance, admission to the opera, plus admission to the champagne, coffee and dessert bar at intermission. Seating is limited, but a few seats are available, said Laura Wolfe, CSUB development director.

Tickets for the champagne, coffee and dessert bar only are available for $30.

Tickets for "The Gypsy Baron" are $10 general admission, $7 for seniors and students with ID. Advance tickets are available at Russo's Books in The Marketplace shopping center, or from the CSUB Performing Arts Department. For more information, please call the Performing Arts department at (661) 664- 3093.