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The Return of the Bat

New York
Metropolitan Opera
12/04/2015 -  & December 7, 10,* 14, 18, 23, 28, 30, 2015, January 2, 7, 2016
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Die Fledermaus
Dimitri Pittas (Alfred), Lucy Crowe (Adele), Susanna Phillips (Rosalinde), Toby Spence (Gabriel von Eisenstein), Mark Schowalter (Dr. Blind), Paulo Szot (Dr. Falke), Alan Opie (Frank), Betsy Wolfe (Ida), Susan Graham (Prince Orlofsky), Jason Simon (Ivan), Christopher Fitzgerald (Frosch)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine (conductor)
Jeremy Sams (production), Robert Jones (sets and costumes), Jen Schriever (lights), Stephen Mear (choreographer)

(© Marty Sohl)

The demise of Otto Schenk’s lavish production of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s famous operetta left many to wonder whether a new production would stand up. Jeremy Sams’s effort, which premiered two seasons ago on New Year’s Eve, veers more toward art deco elegance – the action is updated 25 years from Strauss’s time to December 31, 1899 – but fills the bill nicely. Schenk’s production went forward in German for the singing with adapted English dialogue comically attuned to the news of the day. Sams has dispensed with that to present the entire performance in English, leaving one to wonder why it should even still be called Fledermaus instead of The Bat.

In some ways Sams’s production delivers a fine festive atmosphere fit for the holiday season. The revival has been pared down a bit, with a number of extraneous details edited out. Among the more striking is the removal of the menorah that originally decorated the Eisensteins’ drawing room. The Christmas tree remains, but the question of whether or not they are assimilated Jews neither helped nor hindered the plot and someone obviously realized that. The English book remains the same, unfortunately, with too many dumb jokes, tedious malapropisms, and cloying metaphors to serve the operetta’s sophistication. Do we really need Alfred to test Rosalinde’s wavering fidelity by asking, "Care to canoodle my strudel?" I hope not. Christopher Fitzgerald’s painful comedy in the speaking role of the jailer Frosch marked an inauspicious Met debut.

Fine music saved the endeavor as the Met deployed some of its best talent, in many ways a cast more impressive than that of the original run. Music director James Levine appeared on the podium, conducting the work for the first time in his 45 years at the Met. His brisk and lively pace handily answered bumptious critics who called publicly for his departure after he dropped out of the recent new production of Alban Berg’s Lulu. Susan Graham added the trouser part of Orlofsky to her long repertoire with her customary vocal prowess and dramatic skill. Her performance was nothing less than a superb case of luxury casting. Tenor Toby Spence and soprano Susanna Phillips were in excellent form as the Eisensteins. Paulo Szot’s Falke portends a fine career throughout the baritone repertoire. As Alfred, Dimitri Pittas hit the comic notes with a talent that only seems to grow. The chorus and dancers helped the performance rise to star levels. And it was a nice touch to move the Thunder and Lightning Polka to the curtain calls rather than integrate it into the already tune-laden score.

Paul du Quenoy



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