Bat out of New York

Our New York drama critic Simon Hale casts his eye over the Met’s production of Die Fledermaus.

Fledermaus 2

“All I Want is More Champagne” cry the guests in a sparkling choral polka at Prince Orlofsky’s New Year’s Eve party of 1899, as a new century is ushered in.

The lively scene is one of the highlights of New York Metropolitan Opera’s new unceasingly bubbly production of Johann Strauss II’s operetta “Die Fledermaus”.

The jokes come thick and fast in this new English translation of the Viennese farce with lyrics by Jeremy Sams and dialogue by Douglas Carter Beane.

Some may be a little cheesy but they’ll leave you either grinning or groaning: “Why are you wearing a white collar?” asks Rosalinde (played by Susanna Phillips) of her husband Gabriel von Eisenstein (Christopher Maltman), as he secretly prepares to party rather than head to jail for assaulting a policeman.

“Because I’ve committed a white collar crime,” he replies. No wonder the characters are tired of each other’s company and ready to stray.

Fortunately soaring singing from a strong line-up of principals accompanies the stream of rhyming couplets, so we can’t help but giggle when Rosalinde’s returning lover Alfred (Michael Fabiano) craves: “Let’s canoodle, my strudel”. His frequent tenor eruptions throughout the show, however, are sheer joy.

Other jokes are a little closer to the bone: “Nothing bad could ever come out of Austria”, says Ida (Betsy Wolfe), a dancer in a musical show, and there are some juicy lines for English ears about the personal hygiene of the French.

Tipsy jailer Frosch (Danny Burstein) wins the top award for stand-up with a tour de force monologue that moves seamlessly from getting his von Eisensteins mixed up with his von Furstenbergs and Belafontes to an even more topical joke about dividing the clergy from the rent boys.

Tony award winner Paulo Szot, lauded for his Emile de Becque in the 2008 Broadway revival of South Pacific, takes on the role of Dr Falke with just as much panache. It is he that is responsible for the revenge plot on the von Eisensteins around which the operetta revolves.

Having been humiliated by them some years earlier for an incident that had led to him being known as “die fledermaus” – or bat – he has engineered an evening of deception in which von Eisenstein ends up seducing his own wife believing her to be an Hungarian countess.

Needless to say, in the best traditions of farce, the evening doesn’t end up quite the way that Dr Falke intended, as the couple – like the other main characters – discover by disguise the truth about themselves.

The sets and costumes by Robert Jones wonderfully parody the opulence of turn of the century Vienna, from the rich crimson drapes of the von Eisensteins’ drawing room, with its dominating Klimt-like portraits, to Orlofsky’s even more opulent ballroom with a half-dome of golden leaf covered branches where the guests revel in stunning black-and-gold clothes fit for a bat-themed festivity.

Conductor Adam Fischer keeps the wonderful melodies and waltzes at which Strauss excelled at their tuneful best from the great concert-piece overture to the jubilant finale in this four-hour show that ends just a few minutes short of midnight.

Die Fledermaus, Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York Performances run through to 22nd February.