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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Letter From Munich 2011: Der Rosenkavalier




















Lucy Crowe (Sophie) and Sophie Koch (Octavian) taking their bows;
Anja Harteros (Marschallin) waves to an adoring audience;
Group Bow (l. to r.) Heiki Grotzinger, Martin Gantner, Sophie Koch, Anja Harteros, Florian Fischer, Lucy Crowe, Peter Rose






by Joseph K. So

Bayerische Staatsoper Nationaltheater 19 July 2011
Anja Harteros (Marschallin)
Sophie Koch (Octavian)
Lucy Crowe (Sophie)
Peter Rose (Ochs)
Martin Gantner (Faninal)
Piotr Beczala (Sanger)
Heike Grotzinger (Annina)
Ulrich Ress (Valzacchi)
Ingrid Kaiserfeld (Marianne)
Florian Fischer (Mohammed)
Constantin Trinks, conductor

After three Regietheater treatments (Ariadne, Don Giovanni, Rusalka) in a row, I was ready for a change of pace. Last evening's production of Der Rosenkavalier was likely the oldest in the repertoire of the Bavarian State Opera - it premiered way back in 1972! Next year this Otto Schenk-Jurgen Rose production will be forty years old, a lot older than the Marschallin herself! And I would think it has been very busy during that time given it is a staple of the standard repertoire in German houses. Well, after 39 years of heavy use, the sets are looking a bit tired now, particularly Act One, with a rather faded quality to the walls and the ceiling. Act Two, the grand ballroom of Herr Faninal where the Presentation of the Rose takes place, remains impressive. It even drew a round of applause from a few in the audience last evening, a sort of practice one rarely encounters in European houses with their sophisticated audiences. (If you want to see the sets in its pristine glory, seek out the DVD dated from the late 70's, conducted by Carlos Kleiber, starring Dame Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender and Lucia Popp) The stage direction now appears rather dated and predictable, a bit of an anachronism in an era of Regietheater. I had a chat with a few local fans of a certain age, and they all expressed the opinion that this Rosenkavalier is one of the very few traditional productions left at the Bavarian State Opera, and they'd loathe to see it replaced by anything modern. In any case, it's nice once in awhile to be reminded of the past, doubly delightful when the musical values were as high as last evening's.

The chief pleasure last night was the singing and the orchestra under up-and-coming German conductor Constantin Trinks. In the title role was French mezzo Sophie Koch in one of her signature roles. She combined a creamy high mezzo with a certain understated passion in her acting. She had good chemistry with the Marschallin, here sung by German soprano Anja Harteros who has recently added this role to her growing repertoire. I'm used to more mature sopranos singing this role, so Harteros seems a bit young. But it's important to remember that the character of the Feldmarschallin is only supposed to be around 35 in the opera, a little "old" to have children in that era but not too old to have some fun! Harteros' portrayal had a good mixture of youthfulness and dignity. Vocally she was glorious, floating a beautiful high pianissimo on the word "Rosen" at the end of Act One and an equally gorgeous high B flat at the beginning of the Final Trio. For me, the revelation was British soprano Lucy Crowe, whom I had not heard before. She was simply delightful as Sophie - very spunky and genuinely funny in Act Two, her very mobile face expressing a myriad of emotions. Vocally, her surprisingly large and lovely high lyric soprano, with a certain "peaches and cream" quality, was a real pleasure. As the veteran of the cast, British bass Peter Rose acted and sang Ochs with wonderfully warm and mellow tone, and his portrayal free of exaggeration and vulgarity. Among the supporting roles, I was most impressed with the Faninal of Martin Gantner who sang beautifully the words "Ein ernster Tag, ein grosser Tag, ein Ehren tag, ein heiliger Tag" that opens Act Two. And of course one mustn't forget the great Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, who had plenty of voice left for a brilliant "Di rigori Amato" after a strenuous sing the night before as the Prince in Rusalka.

Judging by this performance, German conductor Constantin Trinks rightly belongs to the elite group of young conductors destined for greatness. He brought out fully the elegance and lyricism of the score without resorting to sentimentality. The orchestra must know this piece so well that the musicians can play it in their sleep - the sound coming out of the pit was wonderful - full, rich, and refulgent. All in all, it was a memorable night at the opera.

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