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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Fledermaus

The Met revives the one about the guy in the bat costume. (Not Bruce Wayne.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Clock's already ticking: the dancers of Die Fledermaus.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera resuscitates its 2013 production of Johann Strauss Jr.'s most popular operetta Die Fledermaus. This is the frothy Viennese comedy: the story of a guy determined to cheat on his wife, a saucy maid out to have a good time, and the Italian tenor who winds up getting (accidentally) thrown in jail. The only hitch: a lurching, unfunny English libretto, which is a step down from the German original.
Die Fledermaus led off Peter Gelb's recent determination to ape the late New York City Opera and regularly stage operetta at the Met. An operetta has  spoken dialogue in between the musical numbers and is usually a light, galant comedy where everybody's supposedly  happy at the end. The story careens from the French-style farce of the first act to the second which takes place at a party hosted by the callow and perpetually bored Prince Orlovsky. The wild night ends up in prison (with a jailer that moonlights as a standup comic) in the third act.

Mr. Sams moves the action of Die Fledermaus (which premiered in 1874) to turn-of-the-century Vienna, a glittering, glamorous time before the First World War tore Europe to shreds. The staging draws visual inspiration from the gold-flecked paintings of Gustav Klimt. In addition to Strauss' engaging waltzes, choruses and arias, this retooled Fledermaus will feature a new libretto by playwright Douglas Carter Beane.

This year's cast is sorta like the cast from two years ago with Paulo Szot and Susanna Philips reprising their turns as Dr. Falke (the titular bat-character) and Rosalinde (the show's heroine.) The big change is the presence of the fabulous Susan Graham (in drag, no less) as the vapid and decadent Prince Orlofsky, a casting that should make the long second act a good deal more bearable.

Recording Recommendations:
Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca, 1960)
Eisenstein: Waldemar Kmentt
Rosalinde: Hilde Gueden
Adelaide: Erika Köth
Alfred: Giuseppe Zampieri
Prince Orlofsky: Regina Resnik
(and a cast of celebrity guests, doing whatever they please.)

This is it: the best recording of Die Fledermaus you're ever going to buy. It's not just the bubbling tempos and expert playing of the Vienna Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, or the excellent, idiomatic cast. No, the real selling point here is the "Gala Sequence", an old Vienna performance tradition brought to vivid life. At Prince Orlofsky's party, the guests are offered the chance to do whatever they please. So a parade of great Decca opera singers comes out featuring Leontyne Price singing Gershwin, Birgit Nilsson (singing "I Could Have Danced All Night"), and Ettore Bastianini and Giulietta Simionato doing a hilarious English-language take on "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" from Annie Get Your Gun.

Tickets for Die Fledermaus are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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