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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Opera Review: Straight Outta Mozart

The Met revives Der Rosenkavalier
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Renée Fleming (left) and Susan Graham in Act I of Der Rosenkavalier.
Image © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera's current revival of its 1969 production of Der Rosenkavalier is a spectacular evening of Strauss, more than compensating for the bungled Tosca that hit the headlines at the start of the 2009 season.

Renee Fleming and Susan Graham reunite as the Marschallin and Octavian. The role of Sophie is taken by newcomer Maria Persson. They form a capable trio of leads in this gender-hopping opera.

Fleming is grace itself in this role, the latest in a long line of great Marschallins. Susan Graham is all youthful fire and ardor as Octavian, and quite convincing when she switches gender again as the maid Mariendel. All this cross-dressing is part of the appeal of this opera, a light-as-air Viennese masquerade that happens to go on for three and a half hours. Miah Persson's Sophie is a fully formed young lady. Her soprano blends well with the other two leads, and this is a much more capable Sophie than the usual ditzy portrayal of the character.

Rosenkavalier was initially titled Ochs von Lerchenau. He may not be the title character anymore, ut this memorable comic villain was made positively repellent by bass Kristinn Sigmundsson. When my date for the evening declared that she wanted to "go down and punch him out" at the end of the second act, that is precisely the sign of a great Ochs--thoroughly disgusting yet comic at the same time. His singing and acting made one regret the conductor's decision to trim the opera, omitting most of the memorable yet thoroughly offensive list of the good Baron's conquests--a 20th century version of Mozart's "Catalogue Song" from Don Giovanni.

The characters of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto are straight out of Mozart--this story could be a sequel of sorts to Le Nozze di Figaro. Dutch conductor Edo de Waart kept that in mind, his performance in the pit was always light, even in the opera's heavy moments--Strauss, after all wrote for an enormous orchestra. He conducted with pointed detail and good humor, lending extra lift to the opera's many waltzed and producing a transcendent shimmering texture in the famous final trio.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.