A Bat at the Opera

Der Rosenkavalier

Comic opera by Richard Strauss, libretto revised from Hugo van Hoffmannsthal. (Closed). Performed last week at the reopening of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Performing Arts Center, Gotham City.  www.tanwpac.com.

Gotham City has a grand tradition of aggressively updated classics, and several of the better ones have invariably been interrupted by the city’s best-known superhero. Batman sometimes seems to be as inveterate a first-nighter as is local philanthropist Bruce Wayne himself.

It was at the reopening of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Performing Arts Center, named for Bruce’s deceased parents, that Batman’s most recent crime-fighting cameo appearance took place. By crashing this one, Batman was doing the audience, and Richard Strauss, a favor.

Batman, not to mention fellow caped party-crashers Catwoman and The Cavalier happily upstaged the allegedly “avant-garde” production of Der Rosenkavalier. Where the production was overdone and overprocessed—body mics! For a Strauss opera?!—the onstage abduction of the show’s rose-gartered diva was visceral and thrilling. (The diva in question, whom I won’t name since it would be unfair to criticize a performance marred by a sword pressed against her neck, survived the attempt on her life and is likely signing a deal for a major tour as I write this.)

We will defer to other authorities as to the relative villainy or heroism of the three interloping members of the alternative nightlife set. Batman, Catwoman and The Cavalier have all been accused of serious crimes, mitigating circumstances notwithstanding. Regarding their stage presence, however, The Cavalier is clearly the most openly ingratiating, and the only one who, in the midst of a real-life battle, acknowledges the entertainment aspects of the encounter and considers the aesthetic interests of the audience.

Certainly his rivals were more appropriately dressed for modernized opera. Their leather attire (Vinyl? It’s hard to tell in that lighting) matched the Madonna-esque or Moulin Rouge-retro costumes worn by the principal characters, while The Cavalier looked like a stereotypical supernumerary from William Tell. But it was the musketeerish Cavalier who had the most assured swashbuckling style.

Not only did The Cavalier ultimately escape through the backstage flyspace and catwalk,  getting the best of Catwoman and Batman, The Cavalier was in far better shape than this sorry Rosenkavalier. Bad blocking, overblown projections, rose imagery that would make Bette Midler vomit—where do we begin? Fortunately, we don’t have to, since no one will remember the show now, just the kidnaping attempt.

This is not to say that some shows do not stay with you even after serious crimes have become associated with them.

An outdoor production of Macbeth conceived by Dennis O’Neill and designed by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano in July of 1972 also featured an unexpected appearance by the Batman at one performance. But for those of us who saw that production again on nights when it was not uninterrupted by non-Shakespearean murderous intent, its own dark side (a condemnation of the drug-addled extremes of the Peace & Love era) resonated strongly.

The Batman himself, it’s been suggested, could be seen as a living tribute to the title character in another comical Strauss work, Die Fledermaus. That operetta, which has its own criminal justice overtones, was a particular favorite of Thomas Wayne. One wonders what the late Wayne would make of this Rosenkavalier, at a theater named in his honor. For that matter, what would Thomas Wayne think of Batman?

In any case, could we humbly request that the next time Batman interrupts a Gotham City performance, could it be something a bit more upbeat and modern and godfearing, for variety’s sake? Bruce Jay Friedman’s SteamBATh, perhaps, or Bat Boy—The Musical?

For further coverage of the opening of the Wayne Center, consult Batman/Catwoman: Follow the Money #1 by Howard Chaykin (January 2011, DC Comics.)