Judging from the overwhelming demand for tickets, one would have thought Wiener Staatsoper was presenting a gala premiere of a new Rosenkavalier rather than dragging out Otto Schenk's familiar old production (seen Apr. 18). Presented every season since 1968, it will likely survive us all.
There was much to enjoy, but Jeffrey Tate's detached, flaccid, perversely slow tempos robbed the opera of any semblance of wit, chaos, sentiment or nostalgia. The orchestra responded with surprisingly sour strings and generally shoddy playing. Strauss's eccentric percussion effects fizzled into mere noise.
One came for the voices. Elina Garanča, returning to the stage after maternity leave, showed a great artist at the top of her form, although the crude burlesque of Kurt Rydl's Ochs forced her into some unfortunate antics. Garanča's sumptuous mezzo is enough to make one swoon, and her duets with the radiant Sophie of Miah Persson were the evening's highlights. While Tate was drowning out the rest of the immortal trio, Garanča soared over the heavy orchestrations.
She also nailed the physicality of a teenage boy, looked simply dazzling in the silver suit for the presentation of the rose and, left to her own devices in the guise of "Mariandl," provided many subtle comic moments, mostly when focus was on other characters — perfectly projecting "her" inability to make a bed, or briefly giving "herself" a break from the cruelly uncomfortable shoes of a chambermaid. One tiny detail may have been spontaneous: while serving Schokolade to Ochs, Mariandl dropped a sugar cube onto the floor and, unnoticed by the other characters, picked it up and tossed it into the baron's cup.
Exquisite, silver-voiced Persson was a feisty Sophie, conveying a naughtiness that suggested she was matched with the likes of Ochs after being asked, nicely, to leave the convent. Her first look into Octavian's eyes conveyed more sensuality than innocence.
This was Nina Stemme's first Vienna Marschallin. Since tackling all three Brünnhildes, she has lost the luster of her top notes is gone, her middle range is thicker, and the bottom is noticeably forced. I have never seen a more morose, weepy Marschallin. Pouting throughout the entire opera with an occasional forced smile to Octavian, Stemme consistently exuded bitterness — at her hairdresser ("You made me an old woman today"), her marriage, her age (her great monologue was absolutely funereal) and the inevitability of the end of her affair. At her exit, she refused to look at Octavian, not even giving him the final furtive glimpse that is customary in this staging.
Rydl chewed the scenery with bulging eyes and a total disregard for Strauss's score, ignoring pitch and dynamics, generally growling, barking and wobbling more than singing. He interpolated mumbled spoken words, whistling and unnecessary lewd behavior, such as forcing "Mariandl's" hand onto his crotch. At seventy-four, Franz Grundheber displayed an amazingly intact voice as Faninal, providing a ringing fanfare to Act II.
This Rosenkavalier was a maddenly uneven show, but the plusses included Janina Baechle's velvety contralto Annina, Simina Ivan's exasperated Leitmetzerin, and Benedikt Kobel's arch, beautifully-sung Major-domo of palais Faninal.
LARRY L. LASH
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