Well, it was what it was. Last Friday night the Santa Fe Opera opened season number 61 with a hard-working new production of that perennial plateful of Viennese schlagobers, Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus. Listen, please, to a voice from the past:
“Forget innuendo. Forget finesse. Forget sentiment. The revival of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus thatopened the Santa Fe Opera’s 36th season last Friday night is about as delicate as a forklift, more at home in old Milwaukee than in old Vienna.”
Hmm. My very own words, 25 years ago, pontificating in the pages of SFR. Plus ça change in a quarter century, as Prince Orlofsky might remark at his edgy masquerade party. But with this summer’s Straussian opener? Pretty much la même chose. Yogi said it in more-or-less English: It’s déjà vu all over again.
That means you, Flittermouse '17. Director Ned Canty’s current show probably doesn’t set new records for an over-the-top, tone-deaf, laff-a-minute travesty of this supreme example of golden-age Viennese operetta. But it comes close. Cut out the spit-gags, Mr. Canty.
OK. Enough ranting about the show’s multiple staging misadventures. Despite the nutsy visuals, SFO proffers a game and comely cast, commencing with an opening offstage voice (off-key last Friday)—the honey-toned tenor Alfred, erstwhile lover of heroine Rosalinda who’s stuck in marriage with a philandering husband. Who could resist the exultant upper-register of Dimitri Pittas, stealing every scene he’s in?
Kurt Streit returns to SFO in chipper voice as Gabriel von Eisenstein, Rosalinda’s faithless, slightly dim spouse. Joshua Hopkins is his conniving pal, Dr. Falke aka The Bat, whose vengeful identity-swapping makes the plot go ‘round. For pure vocal pleasure, Hopkins’ “Sing to Love” and its “Duidu” chorus (thanks, fab chorus-master Susanne Sheston and her fab apprentices) gets five stars. David Govertsen makes an imposing Frank.
As Adele, the Eisenstein’s perky maid, Jane Archibald frisks cheerfully about, tossing off the tip-top notes with clarity and ease. Devon Guthrie as Rosalinda makes up with energy what she may lack in charisma, although her more-than-competent czardas is nearly ruined by Canty’s abusive stage business. Likewise, Susan Graham’s Orlovsky, presented here as an overdressed knish, practically vanishes beneath the second act’s desperate hilarity.
Which is intruded upon, heaven knows why, by the drunken jailer Frosch played by a frantic Kevin Burdette. His frantics increase exponentially in the third act, poor man. Never has Mies’ dictum “less is more” seemed more appropriate.
Nicholas Carter makes his SFO debut in the pit, leading a busy reading of Strauss’ sparkling, complex score. I yearned for more languid legatos, more crackerjack staccatos, though. And the Big Waltz lacked that wham-bam ferocity.
Costuming by Zack Brown, courtesy of the Washington National Opera, filled the eye nicely. But Allen Moyer’s cluttered settings packed SFO’s stage to distraction, particularly in act one with its seven doorways and redundant boudoir. Seán Curran’s boisterous choreography got the deluxe treatment from his four fearless dancers. And veteran light-meister, Duane Schuler, did it again.
You could feel a touch of opening-night jitters last Friday, with some pit-to-stage misconnections. They will disappear. But the staging? To go back 25 years: “Myself, I felt like a driven-in tent peg by the end of the second act.”