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Reviews

02 Aug 2017

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Die Fledermaus at the Santa Fe Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Paula Murrihy as Prince Orlovsky [All photos copyright Ken Howard]

 

Never mind that the nose-tickling sensation of champagne had been shunted for the foam mustache on your upper lip from a freshly drawn Pilsener. Or, that instead of savoring caviar, the performers were gleefully nibbling scenery. Or, that elegant Straussian effervescence had been supplanted by Offenbachian bacchanalia by way of The Producers.

An artistic decision was made, and the talented Team Fledermaus jumped in with both meticulously choreographed feet and, hell bent on having a party, succeeded in creating one. And we willingly went along for the ride.

Allen Moyer’s witty set design couldn’t help but remind me (happily) of Edward Gorey’s 1970’s Dracula. A large cartoonish bat hangs above the action, looming over the proceedings. Rows of bat silhouettes dot the receding sidewalls, elegant door units and richly evocative furniture dot the stage, and playful Upper Society outfits are provided for our visual delight by costumer Zack Brown assisted by Christianne Myers.

Duane Schuler’s brightly colored lighting design highlights the upbeat approach, and occasional comic thunder-and-lightning illumination of the ominous bat were a terrific running gag. Yes, it looks and walks like a standard issue Strauss operetta. But it quacks like a musical farce.

And when it comes to “quacking jokes,” no one embraces this approach more winningly than Dimitri Pittas, who not only sings Alfred with a leading tenor’s sheen, but also acts him with inspired lunacy. The over-the-top, trilled-Rrrrrr accent was consistently engaging, and his shameless, self-aggrandizing interpolation of snippets of famous tenor arias won some of the evening’s best laughs. Mr. Pittas has distilled his approach from other successful appearances in the part, and he completely knows his way around the character, as evidenced by a definitive portrayal.

Devon Guthrie was a lovely Rosalinda and she is no slouch in the comic delivery area, especially when effecting a hilariously bogus Hungarian ekk-sent. Her beautifully modulated soprano found all the lyricism in the role, as well as the effortless lilt and luster required. If the Czardas did not quite ignite, in spite of being richly vocalized, it may be owing to some clumsiness in the English translation.

The venerable Kurt Streit was a multi-faceted Eisenstein. Although his well-seasoned tenor started the evening accurate but a bit dry, Mr. Streit soon progressed into the familiar warm, suave singing we have come to expect. I am a huge Jane Archibald fan, a singer who has dazzled me on numerous occasions. Adele should have been a natural fit for her demeanor and awesome technique. Ms. Archibald sang with all her customary flexibility and crystalline tone, but her insouciance seemed a little vulgarized in this interpretation. Her party aria was excellently sung and conscientiously enacted but curiously muted.

As Dr. Falke, Joshua Hopkins was the finest vocal accomplishment of the night. Mr. Hopkins has a glistening, malleable baritone of exceptional beauty, and he has the technique to exploit its full range of expressive possibilities from comic bluster to melting beauty. Joshua also cuts a dashing figure, can nail a punch line, and is quite a hoofer.

Paula Murrihy was quite the androgynous, gender-bending Prince Orlovsky. Ms. Murrihy’s silken mezzo was almost upstaged by her oh-so-carefully enunciated, goofily accented dialogue. Her total immersion into the decadent ennui of this spoiled playboy was richly entertaining. Stephen Carroll’s resonant tenor and easy demeanor made for a pleasing turn as Dr. Blind. David Govertsen brought his impactful bass-baritone to bear as a fine Frank. Adelaide Boedecker was the spunky, chirpy Ida, and Kevin Burdette scores his laughs as Frosch.

To my taste, or perhaps from my vantage point under the balcony overhang, conductor Nicholas Carter narrowly missed the heady, soaring bounce of this masterpiece. The first, rising chords seemed muted, and talented as they are, the band just didn’t seemed to ignite a Viennese point of view. Mr. Carter’s assured baton was firm and accommodating, and he managed the evening skillfully. But while his spirit may have been willing, the Lust seemed weak.

Director Ned Canty, abetted by inventive choreographer Seán Curran chose to pace the evening as a rather relentless farce. There were enough good ideas for three productions of Spamalot, and a couple of misfires that even Young Frankenstein might have rejected. But small matter, when Die Fledermaus is this well sung, and the commitment to having fun is so total, I confess I laughed too. (Even if I sometimes hated myself for it.)

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Alfred: Dimitri Pittas; Adele: Jane Archibald; Rosalinda: Devon Guthrie; Gabriel von Eisenstin: Kurt Streit; Dr. Blind: Stephen Carroll; Dr. Falke: Joshua Hopkins; Frank: David Govertsen; Ida: Adelaide Boedecker; Prince Orlovsky: Paula Murrihy; Frosch: Kevin Burdette; Conductor: Nicholas Carter; Director: Ned Canty; Set Design: Allen Moyer; Costume Design: Zack Brown; Co-Costume Design: Christianne Myers; Lighting Design: Duane Schuler; Choreographer: Seán Curran; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston

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