Der Rosenkavalier - Should I get a ticket? "Ja, ja."

Garanca and Fleming, photo @ Ken Howard
Last night's performance of Der Rosenkavalier was the bar none the best-sung performance I've heard at the Met all season. That didn't mean there wasn't a note out of place all evening, but every performer was singing at the highest possible level they are capable of singing. As a result Strauss's opera which can have such longueurs bubbled along to its ending in a surprisingly quick four-and -a-half hours. If you want to hear impeccable vocalism I urge everyone to snatch up a ticket to the remaining performances.

Renée Fleming's Marschallin is widely thought to be her operatic swan song. She is not retiring. In fact, it's just been announced that she will sing Nettie in a revival of Carousel. But she is retiring the operatic roles (Marschallin, Arabella, Desdemona, Rusalka) that have been the meat-and-potatoes of her career. With this in mind her Marschallin sounded vocally fresher than she's sounded in years. She seemed to make a concerted effort to project the middle of her voice without resorting to glottal attacks or growling. The huskiness that I've heard in recent years was gone. The role is not a long role, and it allows her to show off her still gorgeous upper register. She capped the trio with a high B that would be the envy of many singers thirty years younger.

Her interpretation was what we've come to expect from Fleming over the years -- dignified, reserved, a bit remote. Fleming is one of the few superstar singers to actually hide from the spotlight during the big moments, to turn her face away from the light. The upshot is that when this Marschallin says that she's leaving Oktavian and Sophie to their happiness, it looks 100% sincere. Fleming quietly walks offstage without one more scene-stealing glance at the audience -- in fact, despite the fact that she's decked out in black furs, her exit was so quiet I didn't realize she was gone until the start of the Oktavian-Sophie duet. The downside is that those who want blood on the stage will never get it with Fleming.

Garanca manspeading, photo @ Ken Howard
Elina Garanča's Oktavian was one of those performances so perfect that I instantly thought that one day I'd be able to brag that I saw this portrayal. Her buttery smooth mezzo can soar into the stratosphere or it can sound like a teen going through puberty with sudden voice drops. Her voice projects beautifully throughout the entire auditorium, and she also gave the most complete interpretation of the night. She was able to switch so quickly in body language, appearance and demeanor between a teen boy and the perky maid Mariandel. For instance when she smokes a post-coital cigarette she sits in a masculine way, man-spreading and slumped over a chair. But as Mariandel she was the gorgeous Grace-Kelly-lookalike she is offstage, and in Act Three (set in a high-class brothel) she looked like she was having the time of her life actively playing against type as the very sexually aggressive prostitute. Garanča has also said this is her farewell to Oktavian, which makes her performance that much more treasurable. (Totally off-topic, but in my dreams I've always wanted to play Oktavian just so I can sing "Nein nein! Ich trink' kein wein.")

Match-not-made-in-heaven: Groissböck and Morley, photo @ Ken Howard

If the Met audiences didn't really know Günther Groissböck before this run of Rosenkavaliers they certainly do now, as his portrayal of this unlikable, obnoxious character was so well-sung that he got a stomping ovation during curtain calls. Groissböck's Ochs was less outwardly ridiculous than most Ochs' -- he was younger, with a veneer of military respectability. He got his laughs from his behavior, which was gross. He pawed and leered at anything that moved. His bass is handsome, sonorous and with a large range -- his low E at the end of Act 2 was really sung, and not just a growl. Groissböck also knew to inject enough joie de vivre to prevent his character from being truly unbearable. Ochs' lilting waltz melody helped -- you can't hate a guy whose favorite melody is that catchy. And plus, at the end of the day Groissböck is funny. Not many Ochs are truly funny.

The Faninals, photo @ Ken Howard
Erin Morley's Sophie was more mature and less bratty than the way the role is often played. Her small but lovely voice has a youthful flutter and sweetness that's very winning, and it blended beautifully with Garanča's Oktavian in the Presentation of the Rose. But really, there wasn't a weak link in the cast. Even a smaller role like Faninal (Markus Brück) was memorable -- he managed to capture Faninal's overt social climbing and fawning over the gross Ochs in just a few moments onstage. Matthew Polenzani as the Italian singer was luxury casting. Sebastian Weigle led the Met orchestra in a performance that was light and waltz-like. As I said, the show rarely got bogged down in note-spinning and each act progressed speedily from start to finish. 

As for Robert Carsen's "new production" (which isn't new at all -- it first premiered in Salzburg in 2004) ... I'm actually not going to comment much on it. There were some things I liked (Paul Steinberg's set design, Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes), some things I really disliked, but I couldn't write about them without spoiling some of the evening's most memorable moments. I also think that your response to the production will depend on whether you think Der Rosenkavalier is a drawing room comedy or a broad sex farce. I will say that I think Carsen takes one decent idea (the impending World War I) and way overplays this idea until it wears out its welcome. But I also think that the musical values of this production are so high that even if you hate the production, there's plenty of reason to still go see this run of Der Rosenkavalier.

I mean, listen to this. Know that you're never going to hear it again. And, if you haven't already, buy a ticket.


  1. Watching Garanca's antics as afake call girl was worth the price of admission itself.


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