At least two contributors to the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Johann Strauss's ``Die Fledermaus'' made the evening look promising: Kiri Te Kanawa as Rosalinde, and Viennese director Otto Schenk. And yet, the evening proved profoundly disappointing. What went wrong? At a time when general manager Bruce Crawford is trying hard to make the sort of changes that will bring people back to the house, how sad that such a miscast, poorly directed evening should have gone on at all, let alone be a nationwide telecast on New Year's Eve.
Ironically, Miss Te Kanawa was so seriously out of voice that she virtually gasped her way through the performance, and was tartly booed at her solo curtain call. Judith Blegen, the Adele, has been in a vocal decline since '82, and this night showed no amelioration. Nor has David Rendall ever given the sort of performance at the Met that could justify his being given the important role of Alfred in this new production. He acted stiffly and sang out of tune throughout the evening.
Tatiana Troyanos, the Prince Orlofsky, put on so thick an accent in the dialogue as to be unintelligible, and the role did not fit the voice especially well. Haken Hagegard, a stylish but lightweight Malatesta in his debut in the new production of Donizetti's ``Don Pasquale'' in the late '70s, had predictable problems projecting voice and characterization as Eisenstein. Michael Devlin was a poor Falke (where Hagegard would have been excellent). Thus, it fell to veteran baritone Franz Mazura, an especially droll Franke, and Anthony Laciura as Dr. Blind to turn in the only Met-caliber performances of the evening.
No one on stage was aided by the graceless, foursquare conducting of Jeffrey Tate. But the crude, even vulgar, direction by Mr. Schenk was something else again. He has given the Met nothing but excellent productions until this season's boring ``Walk"ure.'' His charmless and unhumorous look at what is, after all, the quintessence of charm, wit, and Vienesse style was baffling. His biggest lapse was to turn Orlofsky's gala party into an offensively noisy and drunken soir'ee. And it was odd indeed to see this act done on an admittedly lavish G"unther Schneider-Siemssen set that would have been ideal for the Harmonia Gardens restaurant in ``Hello Dolly.''
Met productions have been known to improve before telecast time, but it seems unlikely that this one will erase memories of the two aforementioned Covent Garden affairs, both with Te Kanawa. And it surely will not compare favorably to Schenk's own stylish movie of the work, done in the mid '70s, with a superb cast, and still the best ``Fledermaus'' ever seen on TV.
While still on the subject of the Met, the reappearance of Franco Bonisolli must be noted. He last sang at the Met in '73 as a lyric tenor. He came back as a poetic, expansive Cavaradossi opposite Eva Marton's fiery Floria Tosca. The tenor gave a restrained, elegant account of his part, and where there is a certain hoarse quality to the middle voice, the top is blazing, and he knows the style through and through.
Beethoven's ``Fidelio'' also returned, sparked once again by Hildegard Behrens's vocally frayed but still intense Leonore, and Mattias H"olle's sonorous Rocco. Three debuts occured as well: Robert Schunk's wholly inadequate Florestan, Marie McLaughlin's pert yet edgy Marzelline, and Barry McCauley's particularly doltish Jacquino. It fell to bass Julien Robbins, as Don Fernando, to show what seamless, effortless singing is all about. In this most eventful of scores, conductor Christoph Perick managed to be uneventful.
Julius Rudel's elegant, expansive conducting salvaged a seriously flawed ``La Boh`eme'' (radio broadcast Jan. 3, '87). At least Barbara Daniels knows how to hold attention, and her Musetta is simply the best this Zeffirelli production has seen. And Ferruccio Furlanetto made a satisfactory Colline. From there it was all downhill.
Leona Mitchell has the sort of sumptuous voice one longs to hear really sing Mimi, but she offered only intermittently the sort of vocalism that has made her career.
The Rodolfo of Den'es Guly'as was vocally thin and stressful and not of Met calibre. Brian Shexnayder, the Marcello, seemed out of sorts. Ben Holt must think the Bohemians live circa today, rather than 1840, and his entire manner, vocal and histrionic, proved intrusive rather than complementary.