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‘Die Fledermaus’ opens Santa Fe Opera with a comedic bang

 

Opening night at the Santa Fe Opera is always something of a riotous affair, often as much of a show off stage as on. But Friday night seemed a bit more buoyantly festive than usual. Perhaps it was due to the choice of presentation, the Strauss operetta “Die Fledermaus.”

Masks, reflecting the masked ball of the second act, were the accoutrement of choice, even a pair of flashing blue masks that were hard to miss as they traversed the opera grounds.

Fledermaus was written in 1874 and clearly shows its age. This operetta which should have been retired decades ago survives due to the lack of genuine melody in contemporary opera and hence nothing to take its place in the repertory. In presenting this Viennese work removed two centuries from us most directors desperately try to pile contemporary comedy onto a plot hopelessly out of date. The good news here is that the production is thoroughly traditional in costume and set. The bad news is that the production is thoroughly traditional reproducing ancient jokes and plot devices, a bourgeois drawing room comedy with no social relevance today. The tunes are memorable, yet more of a level of salon music than of what is generally thought of as “classical.”

That having been said, the production qualities are excellent. The singers all draw the most from their characters, dated though they are. Devon Guthrie as Rosalinda makes the most of a few moments of genuinely operatic music, especially in the ironic Hungarian homeland aria.

New Mexico’s Susan Graham provides the celebrity feature of the act two ball scene, playing in drag Prince Orlovsky, a spoiled aristocratic dandy. She/he appears first in a pair of “buyer’s remorse” pajamas, but thankfully changes into something more fitting a Russian prince. Her perennial refrain “chacun à son goût!” (guests may do as they please) characterizes her own indifference to life. Albuquerque’s Kurt Streit gives a strong performance as Gabriel von Eisenstein, a man of means about to serve a week-long jail sentence.

Two Canadian singers grace the cast. SFO veteran Joshua Hopkins as Dr. Falke, serves as straight man to the frivolous Eisenstein, the butt of the joke from which the title of the work is taken. His “song to love” finally allows his voice to shine. Soprano Jane Archibald shines as Rosalinda’s maid Adele with her laughing song “Mein Herr Marquis.”

The opening of act three is usually an opportunity for a veritable stand-up comedy routine. But here, the opportunity is missed as Kevin Burdette, normally an excellent comedian, is given little besides worn-out gags to work with.

With Alfred, the singing teacher and Rosalinda’s old flame, Dimitri Pittas provides the only contemporary comedy, especially in his act three potpourri of snippets from the tenor repertoire, from Salome to La Bamba. His over the top tenor routine works well throughout the evening.

Conductor Nicholas Carter provided strong direction is this score which frequently changes gear without warning. If you’re looking for an evening of silly, unfettered comedy with a few memorable tunes, this is the ticket for you. “Die Fledermaus” runs throughout August.

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