BWW Review: So-Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Renee Fleming in Met's ROSENKAVALIER
For a new production that was supposed to mark a farewell for soprano Renee Fleming to a role (the Marschallin) if not to staged opera performance in general, Robert Carsen's version of Richard Strauss's DER ROSENKAVALIER at the Met seemed more of a farce and less a tale of regret about passing time than usual. And the "star" role seemed more of an aside than the center of it all.
Not that Fleming didn't look gorgeous in Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes, particularly swathed in furs in Act III, and sound fine (if producing a smaller sound), but one was very aware that she's off stage quite a bit--all of Act II and much of Act III. This was a production that showed that the Marschallin can be thought of as a supporting character, even if the role gets sopranos-of-a-certain-age salivating. All may be forgiven for voices a bit past their prime because, well, that's part of the story; on the other hand, it also made a case for having a Marschallin with strong vocal resources.
The focus is really Octavian, the Marschallin's boy toy. Without the right boy--really a girl, because it's a trouser role for mezzos--to set the tale in motion, the opera can just "sit there." Luckily, Elina Garanca was the production's Octavian and the evening's honors went to her. (Her pregnancy during the Met's last run of the opera caused some major casting headaches.)
Her luscious voice and charming personality--not to mention her charismatic androgyny--made her a grand centerpiece, showing wonderful rapport with both Fleming and soprano Erin Morley as Sophie, the third part of the romantic triangle. If Garanca's slapstick is not quite so strong--she appears in "drag" as the housemaid trying to trick the Marschallin's obnoxious cousin, Baron Ochs--she more than makes up for it as the object of everyone's affection. Morley gave Sophie more spunk than usual, standing up to Ochs and her father, and she sounded wonderful in the gorgeous trio with Octavian and the Marschallin near the end of the opera.
The evening's big surprise was bass Gunther Groissbock, whose superb acting and voice-to-spare turned the character of Ochs--usually a loathsome old letch--into a younger, first-cousin of a president we know, complete with hairpiece. Totally self-satisfied and thinking the world--or at least Sophie's father--owes him a living, Groissbock pretty much dominated every scene in which he appeared.