January 2, 2014 5:58 pm

Die Fledermaus, Metropolitan Opera, New York – review

Jeremy Sams’ production of Johann Strauss’s operetta is lavish but clunky
Betsy Wolfe and Christopher Maltman in ‘Die Fledermaus’©Ken Howard

Betsy Wolfe and Christopher Maltman in ‘Die Fledermaus’

Most “new” productions at the Met these days involve stagings shared with foreign companies. Not so with Die Fledermaus, which opened on New Year’s eve. Perhaps lend-lease wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Johann Strauss’s operetta may masquerade as fun, but it is musically demanding, dramatically sophisticated, predicated on elegance and wit, irony and charm. One could hardly have guessed this, given the lavish yet clunky version concocted by Jeremy Sams. Bearing his own cutesy-rhymed lyrics, he makes Fledermaus a trial in which everyone constantly mugs, prances, struts, kicks and talks, talks, talks. The talking entails inane dialogue inserted by Douglas Carter Beane. The marathon finished, not incidentally, 25 minutes behind schedule.

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Sams moves the plot forward to New Year’s eve, 1899. But his stage is populated, much of the time, by anachronistic nudish maidens in tutus, whose twitch manoeuvres stop just short of cancan splits. Stephen Mear’s additional choreography flaunts irrelevant clichés. Robert Jones’s picturesque first-act set invokes comic-Klimt, possibly the only amusing feature on display. Oh, almost forgot: a mini-subplot makes the leading couple utter a few Yiddish words and display both menorah and Christmas tree in their living room. Ask not why.

Musical matters are handled by Adam Fischer, who imposes speed wherever possible. The cast, probably more concerned with acting than with singing, serves Sams better than Strauss. Susanna Phillips’ sometimes lush soprano sometimes cheats Rosalinde’s high climaxes. Jane Archibald cackles much of Adele’s soubrettish coloratura. Christopher Maltman, another baritone battling Eisenstein’s tenor tessitura, nearly simulates finesse. Michael Fabiano offers lusty true-tenor contrast as Alfred. Paolo Szot’s baritone sounds shot (sorry) as a hyper-smug Falke. Anthony Roth Costanzo, the effete Orlofsky, tries hard to make a nimble countertenor fit music intended for a lush mezzo-soprano. Patrick Carfizzi introduces an amiably skittish Frank, Betsy Wolfe an unbearably egocentric Ida. Danny Burstein bumbles through Frosch’s burlesque-clown routines as if he had invented them.

When all is endlessly said and badly sung, this Fledermaus is fussy, frantic and frenzied to a fault. Literally.


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