Orchestra shines brightest in Bayerische Staatsoper’s mixed “Rosenkavalier”

Fri Mar 30, 2018 at 3:11 pm
Adrianne Pieczonka was the Marschallin in a concert performance of Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier" with Kirill Petrenko conducting the Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Stefan Cohen

Adrianne Pieczonka was the Marschallin in a concert performance of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” with conductor Kirill Petrenko and the Bayerische Staatsoper Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Stefan Cohen

There were moments of vocal brilliance in Thursday’s concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier by the Bayerische Staatsoper at Carnegie Hall, but the real star of the evening was the orchestra.

After soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as the Marschallin didn’t quite deliver the expected sentimental punch at the end of Act I, the orchestra, led by concertmaster Markus Wolf’s bittersweet solo, did so.

When the drama needed a pick-me-up after two long acts, it was the orchestra that provided it with a whirlwind prologue to Act III, a rush of pianissimo string scales glinting with flecks of woodwind color.

More importantly, throughout the evening conductor Kirill Petrenko and his players responded smartly to every singer’s inflection and to every change of mood in Richard Strauss’s sprawling tragical-comical-historical-pastoral mélange of an opera.

Meanwhile, a vocally varied cast dealt with the usual awkwardness of opera-in-concert, striking some sparks with each other in the romantic scenes but stuck with singing in place during the opera’s more farcical action.

The role least inhibited by such a concert setting is the Marschallin, who often stands above the fray, commenting and musing. In spite of that advantage, soprano Pieczonka made little impression in the role. Her handsome but slender voice conveyed the character’s thoughts rather matter-of-factly, perhaps to suggest noble stoicism as the Marschallin loses her looks and her lover, but the result was emotionally unrewarding.

Without that emotional anchor to the action, it was every singer for himself or herself when setting the tone for the performance. Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower underplayed the young lover Octavian’s youthful impetuosity and overplayed Octavian in masquerade as the simpering yokel maid “Mariandel,” but a case could be made for both characterizations. The role doesn’t really shine vocally until the opera’s closing trio and love duet, when Brower carried her part splendidly.

Bass Peter Rose proved a deft comedian but rather one-dimensional as Baron Ochs, conveying little of the character’s sleaziness or his sentimental pathos. (When he went from kissing the hand of “Mariandel” to slobbering on her arm, it came off as a gratuitous gross-out rather than comic characterization.) His durable basso was adequate for the role, which wasn’t designed for vocal display anyway.

On the other hand, Strauss loaded the ingenue role of Sophie with all the vocal flash it could stand, and Thursday found soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in fine form for the part, elegantly legato and blooming with power on top. However, the role’s comic sides—the starstruck middle-class girl who reads directories of the nobility like movie fan magazines, and the timorous creature straight from the convent who ends up telling off the manipulative men in her life—might have benefited from a touch of overacting à la Brower.

Some of the strongest voices were to be found further down the cast list. Markus Eiche as Sophie’s social-climbing father Faninal launched Act II with a vocal trumpet call, and schemed and raged effectively in subsequent appearances. Feeling his tenor oats—and pretty terrific oats they were—Lawrence Brownlee was star cameo casting, belting the Italian Singer’s serenade.

Peter Lobert took charge in Act III, restoring order with a stentorian basso as the Police Commissioner. Kevin Conners did double duty in a clear, potent tenor as the Major-Domo of both the Marschallin’s and Ochs’s households. 

Less memorable vocally but effective in their roles were Ulrich Reß and Helene Schneiderman as the intriguers Valzacchi and Annina, and Miranda Keys as Sophie’s duenna Marianne.

The Choir of the Bayerische Staatsoper, prepared by Sören Eckhoff, shone in its brief moments as household servants and as children yelping for their papa in the scene of Ochs’s comic undoing.

Appropriately for this performance, it was the tireless orchestra and conductor Petrenko who had the last word after the singers left the stage, applying the last squirt of Schlag and a cherry to send the audience home happy.

The American Composers Orchestra performs world premieres of works by Hitomi Oba, Ethan Iverson, and Steve Lehman and New York premieres of works by TJ Anderson and Clarice Assad 7:30 p.m. April 6 in Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. carnegiehall.org; 212-247-7800.

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