Met’s venerable “Rosenkavalier” blooms anew

Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm
Alice Coote and Martina Serafin in the Metropolitan Opera production of Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier."  Photo: Jonathan Tichler

Alice Coote and Martina Serafin in the Metropolitan Opera production of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier.”
Photo: Jonathan Tichler

As New York’s silvery autumn approaches its end, the Metropolitan Opera has once again revived its beloved production of Richard Strauss’s bittersweet comedy of errors.  This is a Rosenkavalier that takes us into the past. Nathaniel Merrill’s storybook production dates back to 1969, old enough to have given the operatic world the bizarre verb “to Rosenkavalier,” meaning to keep a successful production in a company’s repertoire for so long that the idea of replacing it defies logic and reason.

As the Met’s 1980s-vintage Franco Zeffirelli productions are replaced one by one, there are rumors that Peter Gelb’s reign as general manager may not spare the house’s venerable old Rosenkavalier. And after nearly twenty years, Robert O’Hearn’s sets are beginning to look a bit tired, even if the costumes sparkled as brilliantly as ever.

Nevertheless, the opening night of this season’s revival proved that even an old production of a repertoire favorite can come alive with a breath of fresh air.  Strauss’s opera explores many dimensions of love: an older woman faced with the inevitability of losing her young lover, the young lover’s balance between fidelity to her and mutual infatuation with an innocent girl, and the innocent girl’s earnest desire to escape an arranged marriage to the odious Baron Ochs. What a delicate balance of emotion it all requires!

With Martina Serafin, the Met may have found its new Marschallin. In a role long associated in the house with Renee Fleming, the native Austrian inhabited the part with an aching delicacy. Gorgeous round tones delivered the Marschallin’s sweetness, regret, resignation, and wisdom turn by exquisite turn.

Paired with the Octavian of the talented British mezzo Alice Coote, the ensembles came alive with shimmering tones. Coote captured perfectly the delicate balance between animus and anima that any great Octavian demands.

It was unfortunate that the rising young German soprano Mojca Erdmann failed to appear as announced. Her shimmering tones would have made an excellent Sophie. But the talented American soprano Erin Morley admirably stepped in with youth and a natural innocence matched by a sweet voice that enlivened every scene in which she appeared.

Peter Rose, a veteran Baron Ochs, was in full form last night. Some of the part’s signature lower notes came out a bit muted, however, and he could have acted less the ham. The third act inn scene would have succeeded just as well without the simulated fellatio.

Among the supporting cast, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke made an entertaining Met debut as Valzacchi, one of the “Italian intriguers” who foils Baron Ochs’s embarrassing assignation with Octavian in the guise of the Marschallin’s maid. James Courtney’s wheezing notary and Tony Stevenson’s stentorian police commissary remain house favorites. And what a treat it was to have the noted tenor Eric Cutler in the small but vivid role of the Italian tenor, whose love song livens up the Marschallin’s first act salon. His robust reading provoked one of the rare outbursts of spontaneous applause the part has received since Luciano Pavarotti sang it long ago.

The English National Opera’s music director Edward Gardner led an energetic performance overall, though the ensembles, especially the Act III trio, unfolded a bit more slowly and with greater restraint than one might hope for.

Der Rosenkavalier runs through December 13.

Paul du Quenoy is Associate Professor of History at the American University of Beirut. He also writes music criticism internationally.

3 Responses to “Met’s venerable “Rosenkavalier” blooms anew”

  1. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 11:44 am by Ralph Stone

    There is one error in your review:

    Richard Bernstein made his debut as the Police Commisary not Tony Stevenson. Bernstein will sing all performances as the Police Commisary.

  2. Posted Nov 27, 2013 at 7:06 pm by Ralph Acosta

    Perhaps it is because I vividly remember Te Kanawa and Troyanos in this opera but I found Serafin and Coote overparted, both sounding strident and uncomfortable in the golden ensembles. You know you have a problem when the newest member of the cast becomes the star of the performance. Erin Morley was wonderful indeed; about everything else I am pretty much with you, Paul.

  3. Posted Nov 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm by Paul du Quenoy

    Apologies to Mr. Bernstein. The cast change was not noted in the program.

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