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.
The rest of the cast kept the ROSENKAVALIER clockwork going nicely. Tenor Alan Oke and mezzo Helene Schneiderman, as the intriguer Valzacchi and his accomplice Annina, did well changing allegiances on a dime and baritone Markus Bruck made a fine Faninal (Sophie's father and, in this production, merchant of war). In the small but showy cameo as the Italian Singer, tenor Matthew Polenzani was in good voice--and hilarious to boot.
For me, director Carsen's idea of updating the production to pre-World War I--making plenty of room for soldiers and munitions and the spectre of war--worked cleverly to change the usually too-genteel tone of opera. I particularly like the way Paul Steinberg's production design turned the settings of Acts I and III into a funhouse mirror version of the story, with the brothel of Act III looking very similar to the Marschallin's grand residence of Act I (that is, until the staid Old Masters on the walls turn into bawdy, and live, scenes through the magic of scrims and lighting by Carsen and Peter Van Praet).
Sebastian Weigle was much more at home on the podium with ROSENKAVALIER than he had been with FIDELIO a few weeks ago, and brought out a luxurious sound from the Met orchestra in the Strauss score that is, simply, drop-dead gorgeous.
Additional performances of DER ROSENKAVALIER: April 28; May 1, 4, 9, 13mat. Running time: 4 hours and 12 minutes, with two intermissions. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.
Saturday, May 13 matinee will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD series, which is now seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 71 countries around the world.
Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.
Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.