Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Richard Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier"

I am planning to receive a free education in Western opera by attending the Met's Summer HD Festival. Ten of the most popular productions from its Live in HD series are shown this week on a giant screen on the front of the opera house. I missed Tosca on Saturday, and The Magic Flute on Sunday, but watched Richard Strauss's comic masterpiece last night.

Act I was a sheer delight. Lyrical and philosophical in its meditations on love (who are we when we love?), the opera switched to the comedy of the Marschallin's morning audience, before returning to the elegiac note when the Marschallin (Renée Fleming) lamented the loss of her youth, and the inevitable future loss of the love of young Count Octavian (Susan Graham). The curtains came down on Fleming stroking her own mouth tenderly with a real rose. 

Act II, which took place in Faninal's palatial town house, was broader in its humor. Kristinn Sigmundsson was appropriately crude as the ignoble Baron Ochs, while Thomas Allen played Faninal with simpering obeisance. As the Cavalier of the Rose, responsible for presenting Sophie (Christine Schäfer) with that silver engagement symbol on behalf of  the Baron, Graham looked splendid in her silver suit, a match for the silver and peach gown Schäfer wore. The direction unraveled a little at the end of the act, when Octavian hurried back on the stage to tell Sophie to wait for him. His movement, and protestation, seemed out of place.

Act III, the tavern scene, where Octavian tricked and shamed Ochs, by dressing up as a maidservant, suffered from poor stage directing. The pacing was uneven and a lot of movements unmotivated. Still, when the Marschallin gave up her claim on Octavian in favor of Sophie, singing that she will learn "to love the love you have for another," the combined aria was magical. If, like a presiding goddess, she had set the plot, and the masquerade, into action by nominating Octavian as the Cavalier of the Rose, she was still human enough to suffer the pangs of regret.

Tonight I will go and watch John Adams's Doctor Atomic.

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