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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Rose’

Otto Schenk’s production of R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is probably by now listed in Frommer’s and TimeOut as one of Munich’s historical attractions: it was first shown in 1972 and made famous in Carlos Kleiber’s DVD with Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender and Lucia Popp. I can understand the Bavarian Opera’s unwillingness to part with it – it is an expensive staging that is still very popular. The sets to the second act were received by applause, something I had never seen in Germany before.  In any case, having seen the DVD does not mean that you’ll know beforehand what you are going to see. The new cast has brought it’s own contribution under a Spielleitung that responds to contemporary tastes rather than those of 1972.

Anja Harteros, for example, is a far more sensuous and less pensive Marschallin then Gwyneth Jones in the video. Her lighter approach is coherent with what Strauss himself expected in this role. She was, of course, born to sing it: she has the looks, the attitude and the voice. Her rich soprano finds no difficulties in the often low-lying declamatory passages, expands effortlessly in its higher reaches (exemplary contribution to the closing trio) and takes easily to mezza voce. She took a while to warm and only sounded her full-toned self by the beginning of her monologue. Although her diction is very, very clear and, being herself German, is usually spontaneous in her delivery of the text, I had the impression that she – very understandably – is still finding her way in this role. In many a key moment, she would opt for a studied, ready-made inflection borrowed from her famous predecessors in the role rather than trusting her own instincts. In these moments, her Marschallin invariably sounded uninvolved. But don’t mistake my words: if I make these observations, it is precisely because Harteros is on her way to becoming the leading Marschallin of her generation. If she is not that yet, the good news are that she is going to be even better in the future!

On the other hand, Sophie Koch is by now an experienced Octavian who knows exactly where her strengths are. Her creamy mezzo has the necessary brightness to pierce through, her passaggio is very smooth, she avoids pushing and can spin some forceful high notes and beautiful pianissimo. She is only tested when the tessitura remains too long in the soprano area. Even then, she acquits herself quite commendably. I like her stage performance as well; she knows how to play boyishness without making a charicature of it and how to seem aristocratic without seeming mature. She handles the physical comedy without overindulging herself too.

Lucy Crowe too is a convincing Sophie – she has the physique and finds the right balance between darlingness and purpose. Her soprano is a bit more substantial than usual in this part, but she can sound edgy and her cleanly attacked and floating high pianissimi sometimes develop a light, but noticeable beat. The other Briton in the cast, Peter Rose has the required low notes and clear articulation for the Baron Ochs. He is an excellent comedy actor too and can find a patrician note in an otherwise rustic character. I saw him in this role in 2003 at the Met, when he was more restrained with his ad libs and funny touches. At any rate, he has enough charisma to pull this out and certainly is one of the best exponents of this role in our days.

Conductor Constantin Trinks drew rich, warm sounds from the Bavarian State Orchestra without forgetting structural clarity; the prelude to act III was particularly clean – but had problems to find the right balance between pit and stage, often drowning his singers. In the more intimate passages, he gave the impression of being reined in and without ideas, while complex ensembles, especially those involving Ochs, were often messy.

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R. Strauss never made anyone’s lives easier with his complex and often almost unsingable operas – and that’s what makes them so interesting! – and would not change that in his farewell to the world of opera. Capriccio’s conversational style is a challenge to singers, conductor, director but most frequently… to the audience. Not this evening, I am glad to say. Underrated conductor Andrew Davis knows and loves this score and never fails to show how beautiful and expressive it is. His judgment in what regards the balance between orchestra and soloists is ideal. To say the truth, under his bâton singers and orchestra were one organic unity that breathed together and complemented each other in one coherent musical statement. His tempi were often animated, and the cleanliness in the complex ensemble with the Italian singers deserves double praise therefore.

The Countess is probably Renée Fleming’s most interesting role. Her mannered delivery of the text fits the role’s “phraseology” and ultimately makes it more varied and interesting than it normally is. Her creamy soprano, of course, is taylor-made for the part. I can imagine that she is able to deliver a smoother closing scene than this evening’s, which was nonetheless quite satisfactory. If I have one criticism is that, although Fleming brings the necessary glamour to the role, this is not exactly the aristocratic glamour one would expect to find in it. Lets say it was rather Lana Turner than Deborah Kerr.

Next to her, only Peter Rose’s La Roche managed to create a convincing performance. The English bass’s large and dark voice retains its quality even in fast declamation passages. It is only a pity that his great solo caught him a bit off steam. The remaining singers did not spoil the show and proved to have great spirit of ensemble. I realize that I am maybe mean with Sarah Connoly, who delivered a fruity, charming Clairon, but memories of Tatiana Troyanos makes one demanding. Joseph Kaiser’s grainy tenor does not suggest a passionate or persuasive Flamand, but he sang sensitively. Russel Braun’s Oliver also wants a more appealing tonal quality. Morten Frank Larsen is even less vocally seductive as the Count, but he is vivid enough an actor. Both Olga Makarina and especially Barry Banks almost stole the show with their funny and well sung Italian singers.

John Cox’s 1998 production updates the action to pre-WWII XXth century, but the XVIIIth century château has only a telephone to show that. Regietheater-lovers would probably prefer to see it staged in a bunker, but I found that this choice allowed the director to concentrate on the acting – and I would say it proved to be a wise choice, for the whole cast responded adeptly for his detailed and subtly funny guidance

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In the Met’s old and yet still beautiful production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, the Marschallin’s elegant and unexaggerated boudoir and Faninal’s white palace with hundreds of windows for Vienna to watch inside are spetacular as they should be. Only the 3rd act Wirthaus looks a bit confusing, since the limits between the room and the corridor are not entirely clear. The same cannot be sad of Donald Runnicles’ conducting, which is clarity itself. The second act and especially the third act were performed in an unusually euphonious manner in a sense of organization and continuity which would win the heart even of the most suspicious Straussian. To say the truth, some moments needed a more distinctive orchestral sound to work to perfection, such as the delivery of the silver rose, which ideally requires richer but still transparent sonorities. Maybe divided violins were not the best idea for that big venue… However, after a promising haunting pianissimo ending to act I, the orchestra delivered an exciting structurally clear prelude to act III (despite some blunder in the brass section) and an exquisite final trio, truly powerful in its rising tension. It is also remarkable the naturalness with which Runnicles finds the dance rhythms even in the most structurally complex scenes.

Angela Denoke’s Marschallin is an evidence that the golden age of Straussian singing is not over. Her blond slim graceful figure and playfulness have something of Schwarzkopf, although she eschews all kind of exaggeration. Her reedy floating full-bodied tone has something of Janowitz, although there is nothing cool and distant about her. The warm feminine low register and appealing mezza voce have something of Crespin, although she is entirely comfortable with her top register. However, in spite of all comparison, she was pretty much herself: a Marschallin whose appetite for life thinly disguises a highly sensitive nature that learned never to indulge in gloominess. Glücklich ist der vergißt… could be this Marschallin’s motto. Her crystal-clear diction, the natural delivery of her native language, allied to a wide tonal palette, projected her highly expressive portrayal vividly into the vast auditorium with no vocal constraint. Being a highly accomplished singing actress, her monologue and ensuing duet with Octavian scored so many points in subtle inflection and the sheer beauty of tone was so beguiling that even a non-German speaking person in the audience would take her slightest point. Her floating full pianissimi made for a particularly touching launching of the final trio. If one would like to find any criticism about this exquisite performance, that would be a certain flutter in her vocal production, especially in high notes from mezzo forte on, probably due to the frequentation of dramatic roles. Let us hope that her sucess in the part of the Feldmarschallin will mark the beguinning of a new phase in her career dedicated to Romantic German lyric roles, taylor made for her voice and personality.

Probably not in her best form, Susan Graham displayed a rather bleached out tone above mezzo forte and the top notes took a second or two to blossom, with the exception of her appealing mezza voce singing. In act III, she seemed to be in better shape and ended the opera with a stream of velvety floating sounds. She is a committed staged performer, but her Octavian is too much of a tomboy to be really convincing – a fault shared by most singers in this part (the notable exception being the young aristocrat played by Sena Jurinac in the video from Salzburg).

It seems Lyubov Petrova has recently delivered a baby and that may explain a certain lack of radiance in her voice. She could float her tone all right in the delivery of the rose, but in a rather unexceptional manner. A certain rattling in her vocal production and the China doll looks gave her old-fashioned charm, but the necessary breathtaking vulnerability and loveliness – even more so when the Marschallin displays such a beautiful voice – were still missing . All in all, she was a stylish Sophie and I would like to see her under better conditions.

Peter Rose’s bass is entirely functional for Ochs – the tone is firm and rich and he has the low notes. Nevertheless, the voice is a couple sizes too small for the Met. His Baron was refreshingly young sounding and he could find the right balance for the rustic aristocratic devised by Hofmannsthal.

Håkan Hagegård’s straightforwardness as Faninal was also most welcome – and his solid clear baritone is still a pleasure to listen to. Matthew Polenzani had to force his otherwise dulcet tone for the Italian tenor aria. Unfortunately, Wendy White was rather small-voiced for Annina.

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