Monday, January 06, 2014

Metropolitan Opera – Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus. January 4, 2014.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center – Balcony (Seat B101, $100.50.)

Story.  Dr. Falke who was humiliated when his friends played a trick on him (and thus got the nickname “The Bat”) tries to get even with his tormenters by staging a New Year’s Eve party at Prince Orlofsky’s villa.  The people going to the party include Adele the chambermaid and her sister Ida the actress; Rosalinde disguised as a Hungarian countess; her philandering husband Gabriel von Eisenstein who is about to be jailed for striking a police officer, he poses as a Frenchman; the jailer Frank also goes disguised as a Frenchman, in this case as a theatrical producer.  Thrown into the plot is Alfred who is in love with Rosalinde.  He is with her when Frank visits her house to take Gabriel to jail; to protect her good name, Alfred claims to be Gabriel and is hauled off to jail.  During the party various comical vignettes take place, including von Eisenstein trying to seduce his own disguised wife, but at the end everything turns out fine and the partygoers break out into a song.  Prince Orlofsky, who often fails to find something funny, thinks this is hysterical and breaks into laughter.

Conductor – Adam Fischer; Alfred – Michael Fabiano, Adele – Jane Archibald, Rosalinde – Susana Phillips, Gabriel von Eisenstein – Christopher Maltman, Dr. Blind – Mark Schowalther, Dr. Falke – Paulo Szot, Frank – Patrick Carfizzi, Ida – Betsy Wolfe, Prince Orlofsky – Anthony Roth Costanzo, Ivan – Jason Simon, Frosch – Danny Burstein.

For some reason I had thought this was a rather short opera (it is billed as an operetta, actually), so I was surprised to see a slip in the Playbill stating there would be two intermissions.  Instead of ending at 10:30 pm as I expected, the show ended at close to midnight.  The three acts are 50, 55, and 35 minutes long – adding to about 2 ½ hours.  I am quite sure the two intermissions were extended because there were problems with the sets.  The curtain had trouble coming down after the first act.

This is a new production, and the premiere was on New Year’s Eve.  The sets are mostly traditional and realistic, and quite elaborate.  Act 1 takes place in Eisenstein’s apartment, which is decorated with two large Klimt-like paintings, and red-color themed.  Act 2 is a ballroom that is also elaborately appointed.  Act 3 happens at the jail, the set comprises of a living area with bars surrounding it.

The overture certainly met and raised my expectations.  I know a lot of the tunes, but didn’t know that they all came from the same source.  Too much waltz can be monotonous (think “The Blue Danube” with all its repeats), but the Met Orchestra put in a crisp, light-hearted, and delightful performance.  The conductor Fischer is appropriately Hungarian; he is the brother of the (to me) more well-known Ivan Fischer.

This lightness continues to come through during the entire opera, although the Playbill says some solos are vocally challenging.  And the choreography and costume design are clever and pleasant – for instance, the “clock” theme worn by the dancers to illustrate the New Year.

Except for a weak spot here or there, the singing was uniformly excellent.  Indeed the interleaving of the waltzes into the arias makes for very pleasant sounding music.

However, both Anne and I are disappointed by the overall experience, probably because our expectations were too high.

The first problem is that the opera’s dialog and lyrics are all in English.  While I am sure the writers Douglas Carter Beane (dialog) and Jeremy Sams (lyrics) are very capable, I am also sure they cannot replicate fully the synergy between Strauss and the original writers (Carl Haffner and Richard Genee.)  And one also wonders if the story has been rewritten – after all, the original libretto didn’t specify New Year’s Eve as the date, and 1899 was the year Strauss died (so it was unlikely he had that year in mind when he wrote the opera.)  The rewrite is somewhat mitigated by the fact that English is a Germanic language and thus have similar sounds; and the plus is that I didn’t have to look at the subtitles that much.  Not enough to overcome my misgivings, though.

The second problem is the amount of spoken dialog seems to overwhelm the amount of singing.  That is at least how it felt.  Oftentimes I thought I was in a play with some singing thrown in.  This is particularly acute when Frosch (a non-singing role) began Act 3 with a long monologue, embarrassing long as far as I am concerned.

The third problem is the comedy by-and-large didn’t work for me.  In general I don’t enjoy comedies, in particular I find slapstick humor crude and screwball humor an intellectual insult.  Alas, that is how I feel about the plot.

I do wonder if the crudeness is how the current artistic team views what an update to the opera should be, or if they tried to replicate the decadence of Vienna at that time.  There is this interesting incongruence between how people acted and the elegant backdrop; let us be charitable and call that intentional.

In Act 2 there is a countdown to the New Year that was quite well done.  I wonder if they delayed the start for an hour so it could occur at midnight.  That would have been nice.

The New York Times reviewer manages to pan the show while praising it as something suitable for a New Year celebration, describing the lines as “often worthy of groans more than giggles,” and that some of the jokes would be considered “already musty back in 1899.”  The reviewer also says quite a bit of additional dialog was added by the new team, and doesn’t think it is necessary.  I particular appreciate his description of Act 3: “so much explanatory dialog …musical numbers feel like oases in an expansive desert of talk.”

We found off-street parking on the 69th, had dinner at the Chinese place on 72nd again.  Traffic was not a problem either way.  I think this is the first time it took less than an hour either way.

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