The Met Streams Strauss’s ‘Der Rosenkavalier’

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org

Saturday, July 25

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier ~ 3Hrs 18Mins

Starring Renée Fleming, Christine Schäfer, Susan Graham, and Kristinn Sigmundsson, conducted by Edo de Waart. From January 9, 2010.

After scandalizing the opera world with Salome and Elektra – a pair of depressingly dark, psychoanalytic portraits of a biblical and an ancient Greek heroine — Strauss turned to this beautifully melodic “Comedy for Music.” Although there is indeed comedy in it, it is actually a serious and moving exploration of the passage of time, the nature of love and what it means to be noble. The work, which details the secret indiscretions and romantic entanglements of several aristocratic characters, presents love, desire, and nobility as distinctly double-sided coins: the exciting turmoil of coming-of-age versus the calmer wisdom of aging, and the thrill of satisfying physical desires vs. the noble sadness of self-sacrifice. Strauss, as usual, draws on the extremely rich orchestral palette that has come to define his mature works.

This sumptuously beautiful production by director Nathaniel Merrill and designer Robert O’Hearn is almost as beloved by Met audiences as the opera itself. It perfectly captures the glittering never-land of rococo Vienna in the way the Viennese—as well as the rest of the world—wish it had been. It is, indeed, the ideal setting for an adult comedy of love and manners. Susan Graham (we’ve seen her so far only in female – not trouser – roles: Margarite in Faust, Dido in Les Troyens, Countess Martha Geschwitz in Lulu as well as the title role in Iphigénie en Tauride) is the aristocratic young Octavian, torn between two women: Renée Fleming (once again!) as the Marschallin, the mature woman who knows that one day Octavian will leave her; and energetic German soprano Christine Schäfer as Sophie, the young heiress who unexpectedly captures his heart. Kristinn Sigmundsson is the lecherous and deliciously despicable Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau, the raunchy nobleman lusting after every woman in sight who sets the whirling plot in motion. Eric Cutler rounds out the cast with his cameo appearance as the Italian Singer in Act I, and Edo de Waart conducts.

Since her very first Met performances as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (2000), Renée Fleming was celebrated as one of the most moving interpreters of the role. This production – 7 years later – is her second one as the elegant noblewoman forced to come to grips with the persistent passage of time (and we already had a chance to see the final 2017 version in April). 

In a nutshell, after a night with her young lover, Octavian, who is 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 quickly 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 in her bedroom. 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 Faninal’s 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 of them. The enchantment is quickly broken, however, by the entrance of the Baron himself – who immediately and 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. A near “duel” ensues during which Ochs is almost immediately grazed on the arm and falls to the ground 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) asking for 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 budding love – as well as the inexorable passage of time and the undeniable wisdom of letting go. Octavian expresses his love and gratitude to the Marschallin, as well as his joy in his newfound true love, while Sophie sings of the thrills of young lovers happily united at last.

Picture Credits

1. Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met, 2010. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2. Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met, 2010. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

3. Susan Graham as Octavian (in disguise as Mariandel) and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Baron Ochs in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2010. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

4. Presentation of the Silver Rose from Act II of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” with Susan Graham as Octavian and Christine Schäfer as Sophie in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met, 2010. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5. Christine Schäfer as Sophie and Susan Graham as Octavian in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met, 2010. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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