Review: “Fledermaus” Opens 2017 Santa Fe Opera Festival – June 30, 2017

The Santa Fe Opera opened its 2017 season with a new production of Johann Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus”. The iconic Viennese operetta returned to the Santa Fe Opera after a 25 year absence in a well-sung, at times frantic new production directed by Ned Canty.

Kurt Streit’s Gabriel and Devon Guthrie’s Rosalinda

In the leading role of Gabriel von Eisenstein – a prankster with a roving eye – was the estimable New Mexico tenor Kurt Streit.

Streit’s effective portrayal of Eisenstein captured the pomposity and insensitivity of a character that invited the elaborate revenge that the angry Doctor Falke executed.

[Below: Kurt Streit as Gabriel von Eisenstein; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Nine years ago, I reported on Streit’s “light, agile tenor” in his performance in the title role of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” (a performance that advanced the career of another lead artist of the 2017 Santa Fe Opera Festival,  mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack [see An “Idomeneo” Surprise in San Francisco – Daniela Mack’s Princely Idamante – October 26, 2008.)

California soprano Devon Guthrie was Gabriel’s spouse, Rosalinda.

[Below: Devon Guthrie as Rosalinda; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

I had admired Devon Guthire as Marzelline in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” [Review: A Finely Crafted “Fidelio” from Stephen Wadsworth – Santa Fe Opera, July 31, 2014.] Casting her as Rosalinda shows the confidence that the Santa Fe Opera management has in this young soprano early in her career.

Rosalinda has been a vehicle for soprano superstars (I personally have attended performances of the Rosalindas of Dame Joan Sutherland in two different opera companies, as well as performances by Dame Josephine Barstow and Wagnerian dramatic soprano Christine Goerke.) The fact that Devon Guthrie held her own in a strong cast suggests that a major operatic career lies ahead for her.

Susan Graham’s Prince Orlovsky and Joshua Hopkins’ Doctor Falke

One of the most extraordinary roles in operetta is that of the super-rich Prince Orlovsky, whose chronic boredom is momentarily dissipated by his fascination with the workings of Dr Falke’s elaborate revenge scheme.

New Mexico mezzo-soprano Susan Graham has created memorable portraits of this bizarre character. [See my review of a previous Graham Orlovsky in A Feisty, Funny “Fledermaus” – Houston Grand Opera, November 2, 2013.]

[Below: Susan Graham as Prince Orlovsky; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Obviously a favorite of the Santa Fe Opera audience, Graham gave a vocally secure, effective performance, which will be a lasting memory for those who have the opportunity to see this gifted artist.

That said, having seen Graham’s memorable Orlovsky in a different production, I have reservations about much of the stage business she was assigned in Santa Fe’s current mounting of the work. (Orlovsky brushes his party guests’ hair, he takes Frosch’s shoe at the party and brings it to the jail the next morning, etc.)

Already an “over-the-top” character, Orlovsky need not appear even weirder than conceived by Johann Strauss.

[Below: Doctor Falke (Joshua Hopkins, center) has involved the chambermaid Adele (Jane Archibald, right) and her sister Ida (Adelaide Boedecker, left) in his elaborate revenge plot; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Among the production’s strengths is Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins’ wonderfully conceived Doctor Falke.

Hopkins, an alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio is an invaluable member of both the Houston Grand Opera and Santa Fe Opera families. [As an example, see Review: “La Finta Giardiniera”: Madcap Mozart at the Santa Fe Opera – July 29, 2015.]

A vocally strong performance, Hopkins’ comedic acting (including his joyous physical reaction at opera’s end to the success of his elaborate plot) could be the tutorial of how to perform this central role.

Jane Archibald’s Adele, Dimitri Pittas’ Alfred, David Govertsen’s Frank, Kevin Burdette’s Frosch and Director Ned Canty

It’s been a dozen years since I last reviewed a performance by Canadian soprano Jane Archibald (as Elvira in San Francisco Opera’s production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”). In that review I predicted an important career.

The prediction was fully justified by her excellent portrayal of Adele, whose blockbuster second act aria is one of the operetta’s highlights.

[Below: the chambermaid Adele (Jane Archibald, center, in blue gown), disguised as an actress, expresses contempt at the suggestion that she might indeed be in a lady’s service; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

The role of Rosalinda’s suitor Alfred (it’s not just Gabriel among the Eisensteins that has a roving eye) is one of operetta’s great bravura roles. In this Santa Fe Opera production, Alfred is sung by New York lyric tenor Dimitri Pittas.

Alfred appears in both the operetta’s first and last acts.The tenor singing the role is afforded opportunities to sing snippets of arias from the operatic repertory to advance the comic situation.

Dimitri Pittas proved to be an appealing and very, very funny Alfred. When he is being hauled away to prison (pretending to be Gabriel von Eisenstein) he sings the Duke of Mantua’s goodby to Gilda, Addio, addio speranza ed anima from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. When the prison warden tries to catch some shuteye, he sings Prince Calaf’s Nessun dorma (No one sleeps) from Puccini’s “Turandot,”

Hearing Pittas’ elegant lyric tenor voice singing these brief snippet of arias  makes me hope to see Pittas perform the complete operas from which the snippets came.

[Below: the warden Frank (David Govertsen, right), unaware of the false identity that Alfred (Dimitri Pittas, left) has assumed, has stopped by to take him to jail; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Also impressive was Illinois bass-baritone David Govertsen, who recently has taken on major asssignments at the Santa Fe Opera [Review: Santa Fe Opera Makes the Case for “Capriccio”- July 27, 2016] and elsewhere [Review: A World Class Cast for Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” – Lyric Opera, Chicago, November 13, 2016.]

Govertsen’s Frank was nicely sung and showed the artist’s comfort with a classic comic role.

Tennessee bass-baritone Kevin Burdette who will be singing the role of General Polkan in the Santa Fe season’s new production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Le Coq d’Or” has taken on the non-singing comic role of the jailer Frosch.

Playing Frosch reunites Burdette with the New Jersey director, Ned Canty. Both artists made their Santa Fe Opera debuts in the 2011 season’s surprise big hit, Menotti’s “The Last Savage” [see Loving “The Last Savage”: Over the Top Menotti Charms at Santa Fe Opera – August 5, 2011.]

[Below: Kevin Burdette as Frosch; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

The satirical Menotti comedy is one that can be enhanced by wild, over-the-top staging. Burdette’s comic flair and Canty’s no-holds-barred comic approach resulted in Burdette’s memorable “Last Savage” Mr Scattergood.

I am a long-time admirer of Burdette’s work [see my interviews at Buff Buffo: An Interview with Kevin Burdette and A Year of Operatic World Premieres: A Conversation with Basso Kevin Burdette.]

In my view, Kevin Burdette’s performance as Frosch redefines the term “over-the-top”, going, in my estimation, quite a bit too far, although it’s clear that his Frosch is consistent with the production’s approach to “Fledermaus” as articulated by director Ned Canty.

Canty’s inspiration is Charles Ludlam, who created New York’s Ridiculous Theater Company and that 31 years ago provided a new translation of “Fledermaus” that was used in the Santa Fe Opera’s 1986 production of Johann Strauss’ work. Both Ludlam and Canty endorse the idea (in Canty’s words, quoted in the Santa Fe Opera program) of “a mix of the obvious and the unexpected, blended with a healthy dose of gender-bending anarchy”.

Yet, most of the action – the Eisenstein’s domestic situation, Alfred’s attempted seduction of Rosalinda, and Falke’s elaborate scheme involving Rosalinda, Adele, her sister and the Warden Frank – do not depart from what one would expect in a more mainstream production of “Fledermaus”.

It’s only the two characters Orlofsky and Frosch – that Johann Strauss had written as wacky to begin with – and the “dose of gender-bending anarchy” at Orlofsky’s party (and to an extent the use of Ludlam’s translation) that depart from the mainstream, away from a sophisticated (and perennially funny) Viennese operetta into the realm of chaotic slapstick.

Other Cast and  Crew and Maestro Nicholas Carter and Orchestral Performance

Florida soprano Adelaide Boedecker, a 2017 Santa Fe Opera apprentice artist, was a sprightly Ida. New Jersey tenor Stephen Carroll was the lawyer, Blind.

Pennsylvanian Allen Moyer created the scenic design.  I found Moyer’s first act design particularly felicitous for staging of the comic encounters between the Eisensteins, their chambermaid, and Rosalinda’s hidden suitor Alfred.

The choreographer was Sean Curran, the costume designers Zack Brown and Christianne Myers (for a production owned by the Washington National Opera).

Australian Maestro Nicholas Carter in his American operatic debut, conducted the Santa Fe Opera with a spirit that caught the effervescence of the musical score.


I recommend the performance to both the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera, for the excellent vocal performance, and for a generally successful staging of the opera.