> North America
NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
Jason Simon (Ivan), Costanzo, Szot, Phillips, Archibald and Wolfe in Act II of Die Fledermaus
© Beatriz Schiller 2014
A sumptuous new production of Die Fledermaus — perhaps the greatest of all light operas — arrived at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year's Eve. Beautifully costumed and set in the style of fin-de-siècle Vienna by designer Robert Jones, and lit with impressive style by Jen Schriever, this Fledermaus was a particularly handsome show, with a team of attractive, energetic performers on hand to inhabit the giddy world of Rosalinde and Gabriel von Eisenstein. But this Fledermaus never took flight, its innate charm undercut by Jeremy Sams's relentlessly broad, gag-heavy stage direction and a new English-language libretto by playwright Douglas Carter Beane that was longer on street smarts than boulevard sophistication.
Beane's urbane, wisecracking comic style — so brilliantly deployed in his plays The Little Dog Laughed, As Bees in Honey Drown and The Nance — was only intermittently amusing here, registering as an awkward fit for the cozy domesticity of the Eisenstein household in Act I, as well as for the highly chatty debauchery at Prince Orlofsky's villa in Act II; dialogue and circumstance sounded more in sync in the Act III prison scene, in which the peerless Danny Burstein, making his company debut in the speaking role of the jailer Frosch, gave the opening-night audience what amounted to a master class in comic timing. The most assured of the singing principals was Paulo Szot, a sexy, exuberant Dr. Falke who brought energy and focus to the sprawling dialogue scenes, but whose baritone lacked a measure of the necessary velvet for Act II's "Brüderlein." English baritone Christopher Maltman, an unfailingly elegant performer, proved too suave a presence for the gullible Eisenstein, a role that lies slightly high for his comfort zone; his best moment was Eisenstein's "French" duet with Frank, the dunder-headed warden of the jail, given a perfectly judged characterization by Patrick Carfizzi. Michael Fabiano, one of his generation's most exciting performers, was Alfred, the unabashedly self-involved opera singer; Fabiano attacked his assignment with tenorial gusto and genuine flair, scoring points for physical bravery by striding across a piano, and entering and exiting the elegantly appointed Eisenstein apartment via the windows.
Susanna Phillips, a tall, genial beauty with a luxuriant soprano, was not in her best voice as Rosalinde; several top notes landed flat, and some bits of the Act II czardas were simplified. Phillips was not well-served by director Sams and librettist Beane, who seemed determined to establish the character of Rosalinde as shrewish rather than clever — a choice that might have worked better in the hands of a more practiced comedienne. Phillips was most at home — and at her most appealing — in the alluring little a cappella duet with Maltman's Eisenstein in Act III. Anthony Roth Costanzo was a lithe, witty Prince Orlofsky, although his countertenor did not sound so persuasive in this music as the usual mezzo-soprano. Jane Archibald was an appropriately spirited Adele, more effective in the Act III "audition" aria than in the crowded, carelessly blocked Act II party scene. In her company debut, Broadway's Betsy Wolfe was an aggressive, over-bright Ida — a comprimario role here needlessly pumped up to principal status with extraneous comic dialogue.
Donald Palumbo's Met chorus kept to its familiar splendid standard. The Met Orchestra sparkled under conductor Adam Fischer, who moved the musical action along at a rather fast clip.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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