Mireille Asselin steals the show in Met’s “Fledermaus”
An excellent performance is of course always a rewarding thing, no matter who delivers it. There is a particular joy, though, in hearing standout work from an unexpected source, when an artist is suddenly presented with an opportunity and rises to the occasion.
Even among all the star power on the stage and in the pit for the Metropolitan Opera’s Friday opening of Die Fledermaus, it was a cover who stole the evening: Mireille Asselin, filling in for an ailing Lucy Crowe, gave an enchanting performance as Adele, the chambermaid who turns out to be the belle of the ball.
Possessed of a beautiful crystalline voice with a cool, bright middle register and clear-as-a-bell top, Asselin has a natural charm in her voice and in her bearing. Her vibrato is tight but not too rapid, perfect for this tittering role. There was plenty of wit in her rendition of the silly prison aria in the final act, but her best work, and the vocal highlight of the evening, came in her sly “Laughing Song” in Act II. The candy-sweet lines here showed off the dexterity of her voice as well as her accuracy, picking out sparkling peals of laughter in the refrain. We would be lucky indeed to hear work like this every night from the names at the top of the program.
Susanna Phillips, reprising the role of Rosalinde, was again winning as the wandering young housewife. Vocally, she can be a bit of a puzzle–she owns a gorgeous, warm, full instrument and she puts it to terrific use, but often there seems to be a lapse or two in her technique. On Friday, it was her top notes that were missing. Many of them spread, and in what was an otherwise thrilling, dramatic Csárdás, she reached up at the end for a high note that simply wasn’t there.
Returning the role of Orlofsky to a mezzo-soprano after the previous countertenor experiment is a welcome change, and Susan Graham certainly is a good bet. Just a night after singing Countess Geschwitz in Lulu, however, she did not seem quite herself, sounding thin and stabbing awkwardly at the top pitches in “Ich lade gern mir Gaste ein” (“I greet the world with open arms”). Her dramatic performance was an enjoyable one, portraying the Prince as an eccentric, ill-tempered host in a new, Liberace-esque tailcoat fashioned for her.
Paulo Szot, appearing again as Doctor Falke for this run, was in terrific voice, full and rich as a cask of Burgundy wine, and has Broadway acting chops to match. Toby Spence’s firm, light tenor made him an agreeable Eisenstein, and Dmitri Pittas was especially solid as a wonderfully hammy Alfred. Christopher Fitzgerald gave an absolutely delicious performance in the comic speaking role of the jailer Frosch. He demonstrated truly first-rate physical clowning, including a marvelous bit at the expense of the prompter (Donna Racik gamely played along).
James Levine had the Met Orchestra playing at their most luminous on Friday evening. There was a wonderful precision to Levine’s sonic gestures, some missed entrances in the overture notwithstanding. Johann Strauss Jr.’s operetta has to be among the most gleeful pieces of music ever written, and the music director’s account was magical, a joyful musical dance.
The sets and costumes of Robert Jones, placing the action in Vienna on New Year’s Eve, 1899, are truly lovely, a bright and lavish visual feast. Jeremy Sams’ production, which debuted in 2013, inventively grapples with the problem of presenting light opera at the cavernous Met by framing the first act with mock opera drapes to restrict the playing space, while the opulent ball scene is allowed to fill the entire stage.
But even with the magnificent visuals, the lyrics as translated by Sams lack the spark of wit necessary to give the operetta its bubbling energy. Nor do they fit the music particularly well, adding strange melismata and frequently misplacing stresses. Douglas Carter Beane’s rendering of the book has been significantly altered, and the spoken exchanges are somewhat peppier–not to mention a good twenty minutes slimmer–as a result.
Still, a new libretto altogether could make this Fledermaus a real treasure of the company repertory.
Die Fledermaus runs through January 7 at the Metropolitan Opera. metopera.org