Posts Tagged ‘R. Strauss’s Rosenkavalier’

If you are in South America in 2018 and have missed a performance of R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, then you really did not want to see it at all. It has been an item in the season of Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón, São Paulo saw it staged for the first time by a Brazilian company in the Theatro Municipal and now the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo offers Bogotá its Colombian première.

Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, is the man behind the Colombian première of R. Strauss’s Salome in 2016 and renews his advocacy of the Bavarian composer’s music introducing the Feldmarschallin to the audiences in the Teatro Mayor. His view of this score is very objective in a non-Karajanesque way. His main purpose seems to be clarity and, if he allows his singers enough flexibility, he never seems to loose sight of forward-movement. This is actually a sensible choice if one keeps in mind that his orchestra lacks tone. When things are loud and fast, it acquires something of an edge that carries across the auditorium. Below that dynamic level, it sounds very much in the background, leaving singers to fend for themselves. This has been particularly harmful in the Presentation of the Silver Rose. In terms of articulation, the string section was often left wanting, what make the third act something of a blur until a final trio in which the conductor demanded everything from his musicians and got enough to produce some excitement. In any case, if one did not had the Vienna Philharmonic in mind, the performance did not fail to show the complexities of R. Strauss’s orchestral writing but rarely delivered its emotional content as it should.

In terms of casting, this is a group of singers one could have seen in a non-festival evening in the Bavarian State Opera, some of them in A-casts in Berlin and Salzburg. Michaela Kaune, for instance, is an experienced Marschallin who knows music and text inside out. In purely vocal terms, this is probably her best part. Its rather central tessitura flatters her warm middle register and does not expose too much her unfocused high notes. Her interpretation is often Schwarzkopf-ian in her intent to point out the meaning of every syllable, but she knows the moment to let things more spontaneous. This was particularly effective in Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding, when she could find a very particular and intimate vocal coloring that worked the magic by itself. No wonder it inspired her Octavian to produce her best singing after that. Although Angela Brower is billed as a mezzo soprano, her basic sound is that of a lyric soprano and not a particularly heavy one. In terms of weight and color, it sometimes made me remember Irmgard Seefried’s recording with Karl Böhm. Ms. Brower, however, is not as crisp clear in her delivery of the text, but wins the audience over with the artlessness of her phrasing and the beauty of her mezza voce. She is too girly an Octavian, what makes the Mariandl episodes a bit confusing for the audience. The fact that she handles soft dynamics far better than her Sophie could also be a bit puzzling. Anna Virovlansky’s bell-toned soprano shines in most of what Strauss wrote, but high mezza voce eludes her entirely. She rushed through the delivery of the silver rose and her attempt to float high notes often sounded wiry and sometimes below pitch. This is a pity, for she handles the conversational passages most efficiently and the tone itself is pleasant and silvery as it should. Although Franz Hawlata’s bass has lost resonance in both ends of his range since the days where he was omnipresent in the role of the Baron Ochs, it is still dark and firm. Even in his prime, he never was very precise in it and rather concentrated in the theatrical aspects of the role. In this sense, he is still efficient in his delivery of the text and in tone coloring. After a lifetime singing this opera, his paintbrushes are now rather broad, but that does not seem to bother the audience, who had fun with his comedy timing and acting abilities.

Among minor roles, one must mention Robert Bork’s Faninal, forcefully sung without the usual disfiguring exaggerations and Martina Dike’s very hearable Annina (a rarity in this part). Sara Caterine’s Marianne Leitmetzerin deserves mention for her firm top notes and very expressive face too. Humberto Ayerbe was a warm-toned Valzacchi, a bit too discrete, and César Gutiérrez did not seem to find the Italian tenor’s aria too high-lying.

Alejandro Chacón’s staging is extremely traditional in terms of Personenrégie and veers dangerously close towards cuteness. Many scenes that would gain a lot in terms of expression are underplayed for business and overexplanation. The visual aspect of this production is hard to define. It is rather poorly executed and sometimes amateurish, especially the sets. I still do not know what to make of the concept of having the boiseries painted with tropical motives, although there seems to be something there. Seeing the grand-monde’s small dramas unfold among the images of the jungle is an idea that could work in more expert hands, but the concept was polluted by lack of clarity to start with. Costumes, on the other hand, were quite correct and well-fitted to these singers.


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I like Kiri Te Kanawa.  Those who do not say she lacks substance – for me, she embodies the ideal of spontaneous art, the beauty of which has nothing calculated and convinces in its sheer artlessness. She also embodies an ideal of Mozartian and Straussian operatic performance who involves not only exquisite tonal quality and elegant, almost instrumental phrasing, but also an aristocratic stage presence and a certain cool sexiness. She claims that Lisa della Casa was her model – and Lisa della Casa has recognised her influence on her.

However, since Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (and whoever has seen her on stage knows she deserves to be called “dame”) has started to make her operatic appearances rare, Straussian audiences have been left a bit orphan.  And I wonder why she has waited until 2010 to say her final good-bye to staged opera – I like to believe that it is no coincidence that Anja Harteros is singing (in concert, it is true) her first Marschallin (only a couple of scenes, it is also true) this very year. Straussians do not need to worry anymore, since the good tradition has finally found a worthy exponent.  In any case, it is impossible to be insensitive in an event that represents somehow the end of an era.

At 66, her voice no longer has the silkiness that made her famous, but the tone is unmistakably warm and smooth. She took a while to warm – and her middle register is now somewhat recessed – but one can still feel the magic when everything falls into place, such as in the end of act I, crowned by a velvety floating pianissimo. Her Marschallin has never been a detailed impersonation such as Régine Crespin’s (and the occasion lapse of memory is only an evidence of that) and gravitates around charm, which she still has in plenty. Her figure is graceful as ever and her bearing is majestic yet feminine.

Her Octavian is in the exactly opposite situation –  Claudia Mahnke is at her absolute vocal  prime. Her mezzo soprano is always fully, evenly and healthily produced, she floats mezza voce at will and has no problem with both ends of her range. She is indeed an exceptional singer and would be the best Octavian I have seen in the recent years if she had the physique du rôle. Alas, she has not – although the voice suggests boyishness in its impetuosity, she was not made for trouser roles at all. But you should keep her name. At first, Jutta Böhnert’s clear but not twittery soprano seems right for the role of Sophie. However, the tessitura finally proves to be high for her and her high mezza voce lacks some freedom. That said, she is a stylish singer with very clear diction and knows how to behave girlishly without seeming silly. Finally, Bjarni Thor Kristinsson has everything a great Ochs should have – a spacious, firm, dark bass with solid low notes, a most natural delivery of the text and he is really really funny. He tends to overdo it, though, and needed some guidance to fine his performance from a very interesting to a fully satisfying one.

The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln is not exactly a world-class ensemble – the brass section can be messy and the strings lack a distinctive sound – but conductor Patrik Ringborg lead it to produce a very clean and perfectly balanced performance, the structural transparency of it indeed admirable. However, there was very little soul inside the flesh – many theatrical effects in the score failed to hit the mark and there was a serious lack of atmosphere in key scenes.

Günter Krämer’s 2002 production, revived by Carsten Kochan, is seriously misguided. I would use the word “ludicrous”, but I have used it for Achim Freyer’s Onegin for the Staatsoper and therefore I have to use something lighter for this one, which is only bizarre. To start it, it has bamboos all over the place. Then people move about in a rather incoherent way that does not make sense with the libretto and within the stagings’s concept itself.

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