By 1909 Richard Strauss had already shocked his audiences with Salome (1905), and Elektra (1909). Now he wanted to do a complete turnabout and compose a comedy. Having teamed up with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal in Elektra, Richard Strauss discovered a close partnership that was to carry him into his next masterpiece, Der Rosenkavalier.
It’s premiere on January 26, 1911 at the Hofoper in Dresden, Germany found the audience exposed to Strauss’ new developing aspects: a score filled with rich waltzes and luscious melodies. Strauss incorporated melodic recitative in such a way that flowed so freely as spoken conversation, but also gently carried it from one set piece to another.
Der Rosenkavalier is a parody of manners set in 18th-century Vienna. The plot revolves around three leading female roles: The Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie. Added to this is Baron Ochs (of Lerchenau) whose ambition it is to marry Sophie, but ends up empty-handed.
Once again Los Angeles Opera brought Maximilian Schell to The Dorothy Chandler as director. Best known for his career first as a stage actor (Judgement at Nuremburg, The Man in the Glass Booth, and Julia), and later as a film director, this new production is a creative venture combining all forms of art into an operatic performance that really works.
Each of the three acts opens up with a brief film clip of Robert Wiene’s silent film adaptation of Der Rosenkavalier (Pan-Film, 1926), that artfully melds into the current action of the opera itself. The music cleverly brought a sense of historic awakening to the screen, reminiscent of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”. It was an innovative touch coming from Schell’s cinematic background.
The curtain opens on Act I with a minimalist set bathed in hues of blue with a subtle introduction of Adrianne Pieczonka’s (The Marschallin) and Alice Coote’s (Octavian) tryst. Pieczonka’s ever-flowing recitative was accentuated by her immeasurable acting, punctuated by the action/reaction of Coote. Somewhat rigid at first her acting melded into the lyrical score as the evening progressed. Her return in Act III was breathtaking, resplendent in a flowing Viennese dress. Pieczonka studied her role well as one could sense her character’s selflessness and empathy as the Field Marshal’s wife.
What was terrifically entertaining was Coote’s portrayal of Octavian, in and out of her pseudo role. A bit too macho and stiff in Act I, she softened as time passed. During her time on stage as Mariandel she was very entertaining with her comic antics vis-à-vis Baron Ochs, and endearing towards Sophie. Her acting and singing was matchless. Delightful.
Lilting and radiant describes Elizabeth Futral’s Sophie. Her vocal display was complimented with charming expressions and subtle nuances, capturing the moment on stage. Every encounter with the principals was convincing and lively.
World famous Austrian bass Kurt Rydl (Baron Ochs) played the bulbous, buffoon in grand fashion. Almost tailor-made, his involvement with all three sopranos and supporting cast members anchored the base of comedy and rendered laughs at every turn.
The schemers (Valzacchi and Annina), sung by Anthony Liacura and Margaret Thompson, respectively, added to the light-hearted antics in Act II. Equally effective in their parts: Robert Bork (Faninal), John Atkins (The Marschallin’s Major-Domo), Garrett Sorenson (Italian Tenor)(Los Angeles Opera debut), Susan Foster (Marianne), David Babinet (Notary), and Jameel Bruner (Mohammed), supplied plenty of color and richness to an already well-supported cast.
Four Austrian born artists (Schell, Helwein, Kresnik, and Rydl) from their respective venues merged to produce a thought provoking and highly stimulating production.
The score could not be complete without the incomparable Maestro Kent Nagano. The larger than normal retinue of orchestral members played magnificently, providing the crowning touch to an already shimmering, silver performance.