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The wrong note drag

“…the Met’s brand new production of Die Fledermaus, which premiered on New Year’s Eve, is overproduced, undersung and interminable, less a holiday entertainment than a checklist of opera-making skills the company can’t seem to master.” [New York Observer]

53 comments

  • 1
    grimoaldo says:

    “less a holiday entertainment than a checklist of opera-making skills the company can’t seem to master”

    Spot on, JJ.

  • 2
    armerjacquino says:

    Ah, now then, this (excellent, obv) review chimes in with a conversation I was having with some friends recently, so I’d be interested to see what parterrians think.

    Given that Carter Beane is a gay man writing gay jokes, is ‘homophobia’ what we’re dealing with? And are there jokes we make about ourselves which would be unacceptable coming from a straight person?

    Start your engines…

    • 2.1
      grimoaldo says:

      I don’t see what difference it makes that “Carter Beane is a gay man writing gay jokes” if they are tasteless and tacky, I did not know Carter Beane was gay, I had no idea who he was, have only very vague memories of having heard the name before somewhere so I would imagine I cannot be the only person in the audience who would not think “oh, it’s ok, the person who is making these stupid jokes about gay people and perpetuating these crude stereotypes is gay himself”.
      But I only listened to the show (until half way thru Act Three, then I could bear it no longer) not watched it, and nothing struck me as offensively anti-gay, it was just a string of stupid, tasteless, crass “jokes” all the way through.

      • 2.1.1
        operaassport says:

        I can think of hundreds of things my gay friends and I would say to each other that we’d find offensive if said by straight people. I dare say that’s true of blacks, Jews, women, and just about any group of like minded people. It’s very common.

        • 2.1.1.1
          armerjacquino says:

          Exactly. So how does that translate into the arts? Are those things ok to put on stage, but only if the writer/performer/director is gay/black/Jewish/female or whatever? That’s the question.

          • grimoaldo says:

            Well, the question is not “is it OK to put it on the stage” as no one here, I guess, would advocate censorship, but “can a gay man make homophobic jokes” and the answer is “yes”.
            I still don’t know how anybody is supposed to have known that Beane is gay so it is OK for him to make stupid gay jokes, or Sams is Jewish so it is OK to make tacky Jewish jokes, people don’t read up on the sexual preferences or religious/ethnic backgrounds of writers or directors of shows they are going to see.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Sorry, what’s this obsession of yours with people knowing beforehand? How does that make any difference to whether something is acceptable or not? Weird.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Sorry, that came out more irritated than I intended. It’s just that this whole issue of minority humour is one which, working in comedy, I come across a lot and which interests me. It’s definitely a live issue across the arts, so it’s frustrating to have it dismissed so airily as irrelevant.

            • grimoaldo says:

              Here’s the thing aj and then I am going to drop it as I did not find the dumb “jokes” offensive anyway, just unfunny --
              You go to a show, there is a joke that you find anti gay or anti-Semitic.
              Then you are told “it can’t be, the writer/performer/ director is gay/Jewish her/himself”.
              That doesn’t make any difference.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Some people DO think it makes a difference, though, see? That’s why I asked the sodding question in the first place.

            • OpinionatedNeophyte says:

              The Boys in the Band is full of homophobic humor and invites straight audiences in to laugh at gay men’s expense. But the premise of the evening is to see the inner lives of a collection of very close friends, for whom it would be entirely normal to trade in self depracation.

              That’s a profoundly different context than the Met’s Die Funeralmaus, whose hardly intimate setting of a massive ball at a Russian mansion (particularly given the times) makes jokes with anti-gay stereotypes at the expense of a character who does not identify as gay, in short who isn’t in on it. Nor do the jokes arise out of any appropriate situation, maybe if they did more to make Orlofsky seem like a hetero playboy before asking him to name check Ls Streisand. A gradual reveal of his same-sex desires could have been funny and still farcical.

              Either way we should determine whether anti-gay jokes in a piece of culture are offensive or genuinely funny on a case by case basis.

          • turings says:

            I think the say ‘to each other’ matters – didn’t Dave Chappell talk about how uncomfortable he ended up feeling as he got more recognition, and found himself with audiences where the white guy laughing really loudly up the front might not be laughing at the joke he thought he was making.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Beane’s shtick in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED was all the humor of self-hatred, shrilly screamed by the closety and closet-enforcing dian The queens roared, but so did the Jersey straight couples whose stereotypes got reinforced. And with the jokes here we followed the same pattern.

      • 2.1.2
        armerjacquino says:

        grim, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re approaching the jokes from the standpoint of whether they’re ‘tasteless and tacky’ or not: but I wasn’t, that’s your addition. I asked a specific question about gay humour and whether the orientation of those that write it matters. And of course it wouldn’t necessarily cross people’s minds as they sat watching, but what an odd objection. NONE of the discussions here take place as people are actually sitting in the auditorium. I mean, one of the things about art is that you think about it afterwards, no?

        Rosina: Sams is straight (does that make a difference?) and also Jewish (does THAT?).

    • 2.2
      RosinaLeckermaul says:

      This review seems a fair appraisal of both productions.
      On the subject of homophobia, my alter ego has written a few books on gay representations in theatre. I didn’t find homophobia in the production (possible anti-Semitism is another matter). Yes, I thought Orlovsky was being portrayed as a flamboyant queen (though he claimed in his aria to be bisexual), but one does get into odd gender territory with a male playing a trouser role. I imagine that originally Orlovsky was supposed to be seen, like Cherubino or Octavian, as a sophisticated youth (though in the Kanin production the mezzos sported some false facial hair and attempts at a deep speaking voice). Here you have a performer with a mature male speaking voice and an unnaturally high singing voice. When Jochen Kowalski played Orlovsky in the last production, audiences giggled when he started singing, as if they had never heard a countertenor before. The same thing happened to a lesser degree Saturday night when Anthony Roth Costanzo started singing. There’s a disconnect between the role and the voice — why is this man singing falsetto? Now, despite William Finn’s musical FALSETTOS (in which Anthony Roth Costanzo appeared), any association between falsettos and gay men went out with THE BOYS IN THE BAND, I hope. Nonetheless, I think Beane and Sams (also a gay man, I believe), were trying to work with the gender confusion of a male Orlovsky.
      Yes, the role sits a little high for a countertenor, but I thought Anthony Roth Costanzo, to use a hated sports metaphor, took the ball and ran with it. He made the conception work. He and Fabiano, who seems to have a gift for farce, gave the most theatrically assured performances, perhaps because they weren’t burdened with as much of the dialogue. The Met has to do some major pruning before this production reappears. Perhaps they should just spruce up the Kanin-Dietz version. Some of the lyrics are nonsense, but they’re better than Sams’ clunky words. Check out the old Columbia recording of the Met production. And better than the half-English, half-German hybrid that was performed before.

      • 2.2.1
        grimoaldo says:

        “possible anti-Semitism”

        Very very strange the way the production hinted that the Eisensteins were Jewish, or had Jewish roots or something, as JJ says, that is nowhere in the libretto, and then had them say, over and over, “We’re having a pig’s head for supper! A pig’s head! The pig’s head is nearly ready!”
        And then the tacky Holocaust joke in Act Two (followed by the hilarious reference to Russian royal children being shot).

        • 2.2.1.1
          armerjacquino says:

          Not all Jews keep kosher.

          • Batty Masetto says:

            No, of course not, but is it common for non-kosher Jews to make such a big deal about eating treyf?

            Though given the anything-for-a-cheap-laugh nature of the dialog, I’d bet the author associated the pig’s head less with the Jewish theme and more with joking about how Austrians eat objectionable food (another damp squid, if you will). Genevieve could have given them a few pointers.

            • armerjacquino says:

              I had assumed that it was more to do with the ‘assimilation’ Sams talked about in interviews- the menorah/Xmas tree stuff.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Damp squid (sic), Batty? Squid isn’t kosher either. I think a damp squab might be kosher, though.

            • Batty Masetto says:

              Damp squid has been a staple on Genevieve’s menus ever since Donna Del Lago brought back a shipment in her big rig on her last run to New Orleans, Monty. I imagine just about anything on a Rumpus Room menu would make a kashrut inspector faint; the kitchens there are not for the fastidious or faint of heart.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Could it be time for an encor(e)net?

        • 2.2.1.2
          oedipe says:

          I heard nothing that struck me as anti-Semitic. Had there been a “joke” suggesting, say, that all Jews are crooks, then yes, that would have been anti-Semitic.

    • 2.3
      Batty Masetto says:

      Not so much homophobia as cheapjokeophilia.

    • 2.4
      Opera Teen says:

      For what it’s worth: Carter-Beane wrote the dialogue for the 2007 Broadway adaptation of the movie Xanadu which my school performed a few years ago. I understudied a lead part, so I got a whole score and libretto package and I can tell you that offensive jokes are his “style”. The musical was full of things like it. Can’t remember any off the top of my head, but it was full of them. Take from that what you will.

  • 3
    stignanispawn says:

    JJ nailed the Met’s new Die Fledermaus production, which was a disappointment from beginning to end. I waited breathlessly during Act II for Stephanie Blythe (or anyone) to appear and add a little excitement to the evening. Had I known what awaited us at the Met, I would have suggested that my partner and I stay home to watch Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper bring in 2014.

    • 3.1
      operaassport says:

      Talk about tacky: watching Kathy Griffin be faux disgusting while Anderson does his faux outrage queen Schtick he’s becoming best known for. No thanks.

  • 4
    Camille says:

    Eeeeeeek!!!!! What did JJ do with all of La Cieca’s fab wigs???

    Four hours of Funnnnny?
    And fourteen performances to sell?

    Sounds like the comic Hindenberg. So happy to miss it.

  • 5
    Buster says:

    Why does Sams have the action take place in Vienna? Only one Strauss operetta is set there -- Cagliostro in Wien. Fledermaus is in »einen Badeort in der Nähe einer großen Stadt«

  • 6
    La Valkyrietta says:

    There are good and bad gay jokes independently of the author. In this, I would love to hear some good authentic nineteenth century gay jokes as I have not stumbled much into those. But I will miss this Fledermaus, sounds too tedious, and Dame Kiri is not in there singing the Czsardas.

  • 7
    m. croche says:

    Once more on the Jewish Question:

    “There’s some vaguely unsavory business in the first act implying the Eisensteins are assimilated Jews, an improbable element of which there is no hint in the original libretto. They have a menorah set up next to their Christmas tree and pepper their conversation with Yiddishisms like “schlemiel” and “goyim.” Later they order pork for supper. These details, however, play no narrative role and are never explained.”

    Does it really require further “explanation”? Leaving aside the question of verisimilitude (a crucial when one when dealing with operetta), I find it easy to surmise why a director might want to make the Eisensteins assimilated Jews. Viennese operetta has been often critiqued for its cozy, fairy-tale ambience, one where the element of social criticism -- so prevalent in Offenbach or G&S -- is largely absent. Reminding audiences subtly that the social order underlying the seeming harmony of “Du und Du” is precarious, even illusory -- that in the coming decades Orlofsky and his descendants [?] will live in dispossessed exile, the same for the Eisensteins and theirs [if they’re lucky], that the amusing schlamperei of Frank and Frosch will take a sinister turn. It’s not the only way to stage a Fledermaus, but it’s a comprehensible one.

    • 7.1
      Batty Masetto says:

      I only wish the lead-footed farrago I heard on New Year’s Eve had come anywhere close to your elegant suggestions. The whole idea of time running out for everyone involved could make for a very sophisticated, deft, ironic production, especially considering the key role played by Eisenstein’s watch.

  • 8
    MontyNostry says:

    Is Die lustige Witwe as cosy and fairy-tale as it might be assumed to be? It does seem to present a society in which everything is up for sale. I’ve only seen it a couple of times, but there does seem to be a brittleness to it along with the comedy and sentimentality.

    • 8.1
      oedipe says:

      I agree, Monty. Not to mention depicting the corrupt Eastern European banana republic of Pontevedro.

  • 9
    MontyNostry says:

    … And has anyone seen the Powell and Pressburger movie based on Die Fledermaus (Oh … Rosalinda)? I haven’t, but it sounds quite sharp-toothed. And it has Anneliese Rothenberger as Adele!

    “In 1955 Vienna, during its post-war occupation, the black-market dealer Dr. Falke (Anton Walbrook) moves freely through the French, British, American and Russian sectors, dealing in champagne and caviar amongst the highest echelons of the allied powers. After a costume party, French Colonel Gabriel Eisenstein (Michael Redgrave) plays a practical joke on a drunken Falke, depositing him, asleep and dressed as a bat, in the lap of a patriotic Russian statue, to be discovered the following morning by irate Russian soldiers. Falke is nearly arrested until his friend General Orlofsky (Anthony Quayle) of the USSR intervenes. A vengeful Falke plans an elaborate practical joke on his friend, involving Orlofsky, a British major (Dennis Price), Eisenstein’s beautiful wife Rosalinda (Ludmilla Tcherina), her maid (Anneliese Rothenberger) and a masked ball where no one is what they seem. Complicating matters is American Captain Alfred Westerman (Mel Ferrer), an old flame of Rosalinda’s who is determined to take advantage of her husband’s absence …”

  • 10
    papopera says:

    Disappointing. Spicing Fledermaus with clichéed Jewish and gay jokes is grotesque. Hope we’re not going to be served that scheisse on the broadcast. I’d rather hear Babes in Toyland.

    • 10.1
      RosinaLeckermaul says:

      I believe the Met has scheduled BABES IN TOYLAND for New Year’s Eve 2019. It’s about time. They’ve neglected Victor Herbert since he played in the Met orchestra.

  • 11
    Feldmarschallin says:

    Yesterday the second Onegin again a sold out house and many looking for tickets outside. Bachler has been very lucky and while it was clear that the Forzas would all be sold out in a heartbeat one didn’t expect this Onegin and the Traviata’s to sell out as well. No lack of interest in opera here and many people were looking for tickets yesterday. Also many younger people in the audience and at the first performance I heard that there were two drags queens who were in a house box above Bachlers box. Here the whole story about the drag queens at the opera with pictures:

    Mutti und Winnie gehen in die Oper:

    http://blog.staatsoper.de/blog/mutti-und-winnie

    So apparently opera is not a thing of the past or that houses will close and seasons will be drastically cut.

  • 12
    grimoaldo says:

    “apparently opera is not a thing of the past or that houses will close and seasons will be drastically cut”
    Well you are talking about an opera house that consistently puts together good casts in productions that its local audience enjoys, which is far from the case in a lot of other places.

    • 12.1
      oedipe says:

      In the case of this Onegin, I would be surprised if people are coming for the cast -not many established artists in it-, my conjecture would be that the are attracted by the “buzz” of the Warlikowski production.

      But Munich is not the only city that sells tickets: Paris may be unpopular among Parterrians, but the popularity and vitality of opera in Paris depends, fortunately, on the French public and on tourists to the city. And here are some data points: the whole run of the upcoming Alcina at Garnier and Zauberflöte at Bastille are already sold out; the upcoming run of Lakmé at the Opéra Comique has been completely sold out for months (much of the season of the Opéra Comique is already sold out, actually) ; the Carmélites at the TCE in December was completely sold out; last but not least, the Einstein on the Beach at the Châtelet is already completely sold out. That’s a lot of opera tickets sold, for many kinds of opera, on many different stages!

      • 12.1.1
        grimoaldo says:

        I hope you are going to that Alcina oedipe and will tell us all about it, I know it is not a new production but I am curious about the cast.

        • 12.1.1.1
          oedipe says:

          If I can manage to get a ticket, Grim. It’s been full for a while now and I didn’t think to book early enough. I do have tickets to all the other sold out things though :-)

          • papopera says:

            There is a traditional way to obtain tickets in Paris by paying a generous bribe at the box office. Say 10­€. Always works.