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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Der Rosenkavalier

Viennese waltzes and bed-hopping: Strauss' comedy gets a new production.
Elīna Garanča (top) and Renée Fleming in a publicity photo for the
Met's new production of Der Rosenkavalier.
Renée Fleming has owned the role of the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier at the Met for the last two decades. Here, she appears in a new production opposite a new Octavian, mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča. 

What is Der Rosenkavalier?
Der Rosenkavalier is Richard Strauss' fifth opera and his second collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. It is a Mozartean comedy filtered through the sensibility of the early 20th century, combining social manners with ribald sexuality in a heady, intoxicating whirl of sound. The plot is kind of like Dangerous Liasons without all that nasty infighting.

What's Der Rosenkavalier about?
This is a comedy built around a romantic triangle. Octavian is the 17-year-old lover of the Marschallin, a married Viennese aristocrat. She arranges for him to be the "Rosenkavalier", the bearer of a silver rose signifying the engagement of the boorish Baron Ochs to the lovely ingenue Sophie. When Octavian falls in love with Sophie, he must use all his wit and skill to drive Ochs out of town and win the girl for himself. 

What's the music like?
The score of Der Rosenkavalier is built around two things: the combination of two sopranos and a mezzo in the climactic final trio, and the Viennese waltz. The triple-time meter is the heartbeat of this remarkable score, where Strauss uses the vast weight of a hundred-plus musicians with the delicacy of a Renaissance sculptor. 

Who's in it? 
We've already mentioned the powerhouse casting of Ms. Fleming and Ms. Garanča. Erin Morley sings the part of Sophie and Günther Gröissbock should achieve a kind of vulgar stardom as the oafish Baron Ochs. Matthew Polenzani has an Act I cameo as (appropriately enough) the Italian Singer. Sebastian Wiegle conducts. 

How's the production?
This new staging by Robert Carsen updates the action by 150 years, moving Octavian's adventures to the twilight years of the Hapsburg Empire before World War I tore Austria asunder. 

Why should I see it?
This is a long opera but it is also one of Strauss' most tuneful. Fans of Ms. Fleming can see her in this signature part, and fans of Ms. Garanča will enjoy her performance as the quick-footed and quick-tempered Octavian. It is one of the greatest and most popular German operas in the repertory. 

When does it open?
Der Rosenkavalier opens with a gala performance on April 13. The Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for May 13, the final performance of the season. 

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
There are a lot of recordings of this opera. Here are two very different ones that capture its comic spirit:

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon, 1981)
This is a classic live recording made at the Salzburg Festival in 1980. The Vienna Philharmonic plays magnificently, and Anna Tomowa-Sintow is radiant as the Marschallin. Comic bass Kurt Moll is a very funny Ochs. There are standard stage cuts.

Dresden Staatskapelle cond. Bernard Haitink (EMI, 1991)
This EMI recording featuresa marvelous trio of leading ladies. Kiri Te Kanawa shows why she was the definitive Marschallin of her generation, and Anne-Sofie von Otter is a disarming, mannish Octavian. Kurt Rydl's Viennese accent makes him a marvelous Baron Ochs.
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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.