By Lynne Gray, PhD
Sunday, April 19
Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier 3Hrs and 48Mins
Starring Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Erin Morley, and Günther Groissböck, conducted by Sebastian Weigle. From May 13, 2017.
Since her very first Met performances as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier in 2000, Renée Fleming has been celebrated as one of the most moving interpreters of the role. This production – 17 years later – is her final one as the elegant noblewoman forced to come to grips with the persistent passage of time. Mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča gives a completely convincing performance in the (mostly) “trouser-role” of Octavian, the Marschallin’s sincere young lover, and the Cavalier of the title. As the young heiress Sophie, lovely soprano Erin Morley is appropriately demure and innocent, while bass Günther Groissböck offers a deliciously despicable portrayal of Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau, the raunchy nobleman lusting after every woman in sight. Tenor Matthew Polenzani rounds out the cast with his cameo appearance as the Italian Singer in Act I. Robert Carsen’s production sets the action in 1911, which was the year of the work’s premiere, and Strauss’s most beloved score includes wonderful Viennese waltzes, raucous comic hijinks, and the composer’s always vividly colored orchestral palette.
In a nutshell, after a night with her young lover, Octavian, the Count Rofrano, the Marschallin’s intimate breakfast is interrupted by a sudden visit from her brutish cousin, Baron Ochs (yep – it means “ox” in German). As Octavian hides, the Baron boasts of his lecherous conquests and his upcoming marriage to Sophie von Faninal, the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy merchant. He has come to ask the Marschallin for her advice on which cavalier he should enlist to deliver the traditional silver rose to his intended. When she suggests Octavian, he himself emerges from hiding – except he is now dressed as the Marschallin’s chambermaid, “Mariandel” in order to avoid being discovered. The Baron immediately begins an amorous assault on “Mariandel”, but “she” successfully evades him, and Octavian exits the bedroom undiscovered.
Among the daily callers who now attend the Marschallin, is an Italian singer (always a surprise “ringer”) whose virtuoso aria is finally interrupted by the Baron wrangling with a lawyer over Sophie’s dowry. Also, among the visitors we meet Valzacchi and Annina, two intriguers, willing to do almost anything – for a fee, of course – who are immediately engaged by Baron Ochs to find “Mariandel” for him.
In Act II, we see the Cavalier (Octavian) delivering the silver rose to Sophie – and naturally, it’s impossible love at first sight for both. The enchantment is quickly broken, however, by the entrance of the Baron himself – who thoroughly repulses Sophie with his crude behavior and comments.
When Ochs leaves to discuss the business of the marriage contract with her father, Sophie begs Octavian for help, which he is only too happy to offer. When they embrace however, Valzacchi and Annina see it and run to summon Ochs. An almost “duel” ensues during which Ochs is immediately grazed on the arm and falls screaming for a medic (and wine!). Sophie’s father will not hear of calling off the wedding and banishes Octavian from the house. Resourceful Octavian, however, hatches a brilliant plan with Valzacchi and Annina – whose loyalties have quickly been switched to the possessor of the larger purse – which will discredit Ochs and set things right.
By Act III, the plan is in full operation (in a high-class brothel) thanks to a letter from “Mariandel” (delivered by Valzacchi and Annina) seeking a rendezvous with Ochs, who is of course thrilled by the invitation. And now we have the rather amusing genderbending situation of a woman playing a man (a “trouser” role), now playing a woman in order to seduce and embarrass another man. Don’t miss the raucous (and raunchy) fun…. and especially do not miss the transcendently beautiful trio that ends the opera, in which the Marschallin graciously accepts the young couple’s happiness – as well as the inexorable passage of time and the wisdom of letting go – Octavian expresses his love and gratitude to the Marschallin, as well as his joy in his new love, and Sophie sings of the thrills of young lovers united at last.
1. Renée Fleming and Elīna Garanča as the Marschallin and Octavian in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met. Credit …. Kristian Schuller/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs with Valzacchi and Annina in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met. Credit …. Kristian Schuller/Metropolitan Opera.
3. Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs with Elīna Garanča as ”Mariandel” in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met. Credit …. Kristian Schuller/Metropolitan Opera.
4. Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met. Credit …. Kristian Schuller/Metropolitan Opera.