BWW Reviews: The Long and Short of It--DIE FLEDERMAUS and THE MAGIC FLUTE at the Met

Before seeing the Met's new production of Johann Strauss Jr.'s DIE FLEDERMAUS, directed by Jeremy Sams, on Saturday night, I listened to the afternoon's live broadcast of Mozart's THE MAGIC FLUTE. Both were written in German and performed in English to make them more palatable to their target audiences (Broadway musical lovers and young opera-goers-in-training, respectively). Both had lots of dialogue interspersed between musical numbers. But, while the Mozart had its guts cut away to shave the running time to 90 minutes without an intermission, the FLEDERMAUS went on--and on and on--for four hours. Both had the same result--and it was not good.

I won't say much about the Mozart, since I only experienced the performance via radio, but it seemed a pretty pallid version of the piece, and a far cry from the full production created by Julie Taymor when it was new. Baritone Nathan Gunn's lively Papageno and the coloratura fireworks of soprano Albina Shagimuratova, as the Queen of the Night, were mostly responsible for bringing it to life, under Jane Glover's firm baton. Otherwise, I was left thinking about all the great music that was missing.

Falling in and out of love

There's really nothing wrong with this FLEDERMAUS--a tale of falling in and out of love, ambition, revenge, mistaken identities and general silliness--that about an hour's worth of pruning wouldn't fix. That would cut out a good portion of Douglas Carter Beane's jokes that don't land and new lyrics, from the pen of director Sams, that have a similar problem. (By the time the famous overture is through, you've heard highlights of the best of the lively score, but there's still a lot more.)

To be fair, Beane surely didn't have enough time in front of a live audience--that's what putting on opera is like vs. the sometimes-endless preview process on Broadway (his usual milieu)--to see what worked and what didn't. That puts the blame squarely on the director, who should have brought in a surer hand for the lyrics, leaving him time to concentrate on getting the show in shape.

Gorgeous sets and costumes

On the plus side, the scenic design and costumes, set at the turn of the 20th century by Robert Jones, are gorgeous, with shades of the Vienna of Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann (Acts I and III) and the inverted dome of Vienna's Secession Building by Joseph Maria Olbrich (Act II). The female dancers looked great in their showgirl attire, and their dances lightened the evening--but they extended a performance that sometimes seemed endless.

To be sure, there were some wonderful performances, starting with Paolo Szot as Dr. Falke, the bat of the title. He has a sturdy baritone and he's a charming actor--he won a Tony, after all, for Lincoln Center Theatre's SOUTH PACIFIC and was powerful in THE NOSE by Shostakovich. But not even he could pull off the poorly drawn 'recognition scene,' when he explains the meaning of the 'bat theme' he has chosen for Prince Orlofsky's (Anthony Roth Costanzo) ball.

A lovesick opera singer

Tenor Michael Fabiano is a very funny Alfred, the lovesick opera singer with the big, er, high notes, whose soaring voice from the jail cell in Act III (featuring snippets from the tenor's-great-hits catalogue) makes you long for a role that better shows him off. Soprano Jane Archibald is a peach as Adele, the maid masquerading as an actress, and does well by one of the operetta's better-known arias, the Laughing Song in Act II.

Best of all is Danny Burstein, the Broadway actor, in the nonsinging role of Frosch, the tipsy Jailer. He's a pro who keeps charging ahead, even when the material lets him down. (Didn't Beane and Sams ever hear the expression, "less is more"?) The cast was rounded out by soprano Susanna Phillips (Rosalinde), baritone Christopher Maltman (Eisenstein) and Betsy Wolfe (Adele's sister, Ida), another refugee from Broadway.

All in all, this was a strangely muted performance, including the work of the Met's orchestra conducted by Adam Fischer. For all its talk of champagne--and there's lots of it--this was a cocktail definitely missing its fizz.

Pictured: DIE FLEDERMAUS, Act II, scenic and costume design by Robert Jones. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow