"J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)
Saw Rosenkav opening night yesterday. I'm still mulling things over (and probably will notice more upon second viewing), but real quick:
* Vocally, everybody was very good, though I thought it was Garanca who was the star of the show, and not Fleming, for all that she made a nicely believable, nuanced Marschallin.
* Other than Act 3, which Carsen set in a brothel (with a innkeeper/madam in drag), it was quite a traditional production, and I don't quite understand why Carsen was booed to the degree that he was (a huge amount of booing!).
* I was a little disappointed by the production. I liked the time period update a lot more when I first heard that that's what they were going to do, since it does add a certain something to know that in a few short years, Octavian and Ochs will be killed within weeks of the onset of the way, and that the Marschallin will never have the chance to become the "old Princess Resi" that she dreads, since their aristocratic Viennese society (of Rosenkavaliers and Italian Tenors) is on the brink of disappearing forever. Certainly, there were mentions of the coming war: Ochs and Octavian wear military uniforms, footmen are forever bringing armaments in and out of Faninal's foyer during act 2 (I found it unsubtle), and when Ochs is wounded by Octavian, he is rushed to a seat on a piece of artillery, though the only mention of the war that had any sense of loss was at the very end, when the brothel walls open up after the duet to show the Feldmarschall (who we recognize from his funny green hat) and his men on the battlefield aiming at the Marschallin's little page boy Mohammed (drunk at the front of the stage). Mohammed runs offstage, and the soldiers, inexplicably, die (in a funny panto sort of way!) with two of Faninal's artillery pieces smoking in the background. I found this unsubtle as well.
* Act 3 Mariandel was very sexually aggressive. There was a lot of splaying of legs and trying to wrestle-clasp Ochs in bed, and Ochs is visibly put off by this - at one point falling over the back of a chaise lounge (ouch, Gunther Groissbock!) to try and escape her. I quite liked this, though not so sure about Och's hair (initially very similar to Groissbock's normal hair) being progressively revealed in this scene as a combover and then a full wig. Act 2 Ochs also had a lot of buffo howling and funny limping around with crutches (just after my seatmate and I discussed how much we appreciated that this Ochs wasn't too over the top haha!).
I think Rosenkavalier is something of a morality tale - focused on the recognition of the Marschallin of her aging and fading beauty (but certainly not when it's the ageless Renee Fleming singing the role!). It's that understanding and acceptance at the end of the opera that's so heartbreaking. The military stuff that Carsen apparently has tarted up the stage with is, at best, a distraction from the point of the opera.Other than Act 3, which Carsen set in a brothel (with a innkeeper/madam in drag), it was quite a traditional production, and I don't quite understand why Carsen was booed to the degree that he was (a huge amount of booing!).
There is an interview in last month's "Opera News" (on the occasion of the Opera News Awards) with Mr. Carsen, in which he talks about how broad his ability to take on just about any opera production of all periods offered. Except Rossini. He doesn't like Rossini (Rossini doesn't 'move' him). Very lucky Rossini!
I usually enjoy Robert's Carsen's productions. Les Boreades, the Met's previous Eugene Onegin, the Sf Mefistofele, the Aix Midsummer night's dream, Campra's Les Fêtes Vénitiennes, the Zürich Semele, the Paris Lully Armide, Glyndebourne's Incoronazione di Poppea, the Paris Contes D'Hoffmann with Shicoff, the La Scala dialogues des Carmélites under Muti, the Met's last Falstaff, all fantastic productions.
I'm just back from Bach's St John Passion at the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo. I was wary of this because neither the orchestra, the singers, the chorus or the conductor perform baroque music regularly, or at all. They all focus on romantic, modern and contemporary stuff. House was full but not packed. The orchestra came in first, which I thought was unusual, with their modern instruments in a reasonable number. Then the chorus started to get in and take their seats and I swear to God I was afraid the stage would collapse. They never stopped coming. 40, 60, 80 singers. I figured we were going 50s Bach, Karl Richter style, and started wondering if I'd be out in time to get the subway.
I sat at my usual spot where I can hear well and be relatively alone. This time I took a friend who's absolutely unfamiliar with classical music but who recently attended the Chichester Psalms and was intrigued. Maestro Minczuk, who I frankly dislike, got to the podium under mild applause and the whole thing started. The tempo was average and I was relieved we weren't in for a three-hour Passion, but the first impression wasn't really good. The chorus was a bit stiff and clarity was lacking. I personally think Herr, unser Herrscher is some of the most oppressing music to ever come from the Baroque, the might of God just towering around you, but the result was underwhelming and rather perfunctory. A 9-minute disappointment.
Little did we know Minczuk had more in store for us. When the opening chorus was over the gentleman sitting right in front of us stood up with a bright light over him. It was Gustavo Quaresma singing the Evangelist — from "the pulpit" — and we were on the worst possible seats to listen to him. Despite that, he was, if not thoroughly accomplished, a very committed Evangelist, and a pleasant surprise for me. He was a bit on the Distressed Tenor™ trend, but I think he pulled it off.
The chorus fortunately got better. The turba passages were nice, but a bit bland due to directorial decisions, I believe. The Kreuzige chorus, for instance, was stripped of its impactful rawness and performed at a lingering pace. There was one moment when the chorus felt truly alive, though: the soldiers dividing Jesus' clothes. I wish everything else was like that.
Soloists: Leonardo Pace as Pilatus was the standout. Big, full, heavy, commanding voice that really gets to you, and the best German in the house tonight. Soprano Manuela Freua has a very ringing voice with a short vibrato that can get screechy a little easier than I'd like. She seems to have charming pianissimi, though, and I guess that singing Bellini she'd fare much better. Gilberto Chaves is a brave young tenor. He's not quite there yet, but Ewärge wie is probably the most difficult thing to sing on the whole Passion and I was quite pleased with his rendition. Bass Pepes do Valle was definitely the weakest link. No volume, muddled diction, often drowned under the orchestra. Eilt ihr angefochtnen Seelen, my favorite aria, was pretty much ruined all around, complete with odd timing from the chorus. Not to be remembered.
Daniel Lee's Jesus was okay. His Es ist vollbracht was very heartfelt and immediately after he said it the whole house went pitch black. A woman behind me went "Wow". Mezzo Carolina Faria has a very dark, very peculiar voice. It is very attractive but has something of bizarre in it, which worked wonders for her Es ist vollbracht, alone under a narrow spotlight and surrounded by darkness. It was very impressive, I could hear people sniff from all directions.
All in all, generally subpar performance with a few highlights. My friend was overall positively impressed but agreed that it missed "it". I hope they continue to inject Baroque stuff into their season so it can get better. I'm here to pay for it.
PS. I don't want to hear Ich folge dir gleichfalls with a metal flute ever again in my life.
Last edited by Festat; April 15th, 2017 at 08:12 AM.
Ran into and chatted with the Wagner Society roundtable moderator after Eugene Onegin on Saturday (which was overwhelmingly fantastic; Mattei and Netrebko were feeling it and both in even better voice than usual. I'm so glad they're recording this, otherwise I'd have made my own pirate.), which reminded me of this very funny moment from the roundtable on Tannhauser.
And I agree, Gunther Groissbock is fantastic! I've really liked him in everything I've seen him in (Landgrave and Lodovico last year, as well as Don Fernando last month), and I will admit to harboring secret hopes that he'd get a couple performances for next season's Gurnemanz (not that I'm not quite excited about Rene Pape, but I've seen him do this before).
This is my first Rosenkavalier ever. I haven't even listened to it, other than the orchestral suite which I have adored for years. Strauss has really started to click with me, and I've been listening to Capriccio and Ariadne a lot, so I wanted to try this one cold. So... DISCLAIMER: I don't know what I'm talking about.
I thought there were weak points. I get the idea of the Act 2 set design as an austere nouveau riche "travesty", but it still wasn't very impressive after the sumptuousness of Act 1. The artillery pieces were indeed a little heavy handed at the start, but pay off with subsequent appearances. (For the record, I think weapons manufacturers *would* have held demonstrations for the nobility at their estates... just not indoors.)
I don't know how much humor is usually derived from Act 1, but I didn't get much from this performance. I thought to myself, okay this is one of those productions that forgoes some of the comedy in order to deal more with the drama and the themes of the opera. Fine. But no! Acts 2 & 3 were often hilarious and I ended up laughing out loud to this production more than any other opera I've ever seen.
And the last bit of stage business after the final duet... I really thought I was going to dislike this, as a tonal departure, but it was fine! It managed to feel light-hearted while still driving home the very dark message of the production that WWI is right around the corner.
Renee sounded a little weak-voiced to me on the night I went, but still had an authoritative presence, and she made the effort to ramp it up a little during the key moments of Act 3. Elina was definitely the star of the show, both in voice and performance; her boyish mannerisms were soooo good.
So, overall I loved the show, even if it could have been slightly better.
Also, fwiw, the audience this evening pushed back against the opening night boo brigade. They heartily applauded every scenery reveal, even the "meh" Act 2 setting. I am heartened, because the worst moments of my last Met trip were the constant complaining and negativity I had to endure from nearby audience members.
True, such a concept goes beyond the bounds of Strauss and Hofmannsthal's intention. But it's very much in keeping with the historical circumstances from which the opera emerged.