The Met’s New Fledermaus–A Bat Out of Hell

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, NY; January 7, 2014—Johann Strauss’ supple, witty Die Fledermaus has invariably fared well at the Met: the 1950 production was one of Rudolf Bing’s great successes and it was not until 1986 that it was replaced by a handsome one designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen and artfully directed by Otto Schenk. The new one, which opened on New Year’s Eve, 2013, is a good-looking affair, with sets and costumes by Robert Jones, and direction—and a new translation of the musical numbers—by Jeremy Sams. Douglas Carter Beane created new dialogue.

The first act introduces us to the Eisensteins in their plush, red living room, complete with Christmas tree, menorah, and two would-be Klimt paintings on the walls. They toss Yiddish words around and then order a pig’s head dinner. Since Sams has updated the action to New Year’s eve, 1899, I believe that we are to feel as if all is well in racially and religiously assimilated Vienna; indeed, the second act brings the unfunny joke, “I see Austria showing the world how much you can accomplish if you have a good plan and are really organized.” And something to the effect that nothing bad could ever come out of Austria.

Presuming this is all meant ironically, it thankfully isn’t developed—but who needs the commentary? Who will find it funny? Austrians? Jews? Austrian Jews? We have Douglas Beane to thank for the dialogue, and there is too much of it and it is mostly common and corny; Sams’ sung text is wordy and filled with odd unfunny patches as well. The pacing of the show is off and the jokes seem to be waiting for a laugh track, much like a bad TV sit-com, unless you find “Let’s kanoodle/My little strudel” funny. The audience attempted to find things funny but failed—a few titters is all the text got. And the characters are in almost perpetual motion—as is the stage for the Ball at Orlovsky’s: a golden grill, stained glass, grand chandelier, and dozens of people who never stop moving, while the main characters simply walk front and center to speak or sing. It’s awkward.

Musically things are somewhat better, but they do not make up for what is essentially a lead balloon. Paolo Szot is a terrific actor, and for a man whose first language is not English, he delivered Falke’s lines clearly and with fine comic intent. He seemed stressed at the top of his range, however. Christopher Maltman’s Eisenstein was similarly active, but his voice lacks presence. Michael Fabiano sang Alfred like a true Italian tenor, with brilliant phrasing and ringing tone; he was the cast’s high point.

Susanna Phillips’ Rosalinde lacked charm, and oddly, her “Czardas” went for nothing—she received a smattering of applause. Jane Archibald nailed all of Adele’s high notes and was suitably perky, but too much shtick got in her way; ditto for Adele Wolfe as her sister, Ida. The strangest piece of casting was the remarkable countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as Prince Orlovsky. It’s not unprecedented to take this role away from a female mezzo-soprano (the voice for which it was written), but Roth Costanzo, asked to act in an almost insultingly flamboyant manner (and costumed accordingly), pushed his otherwise grand voice to its limits.

I’m not sure what it was that made Adam Fischer’s leadership so lackluster, but it was. The Met Orchestra and Chorus—not to mention the Corps de Ballet, who had extra work to do with the addition of an extra piece in Act 2—were in fine form.