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June 1, 2005
Classical 96.3 FM
Toronto's Classical Music Radio Station CFMX
Paula Citron
Show Reviews
Los Angeles Opera – "Der Rosenkavalier"
The LAO's compelling new production of Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" bears the intriguing vision of Hollywood legend, actor/director Maximilian Schell, and the marvellous designs of Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based visual artist Gottfried Helnwein. Helnwein's brilliant costumes are also character driven. Sophie's duenna Marianne (soprano Susan Foster) is garbed like a Shakespearean nurse, Sophie is an idealized Helen of Troy, while the schemers Valzacchi and Annina (tenor Anthony Laciura and mezzo-soprano Margaret Thompson) could be straight out of Mozart's "Don Giovanni'. In short a production that clearly needs to be visited again and again to fully reveal its symbolic and metaphoric riches. Perhaps the greatest glory of this "Der Rosenkavalier" is its visual unpredictability.
The good news from Plácido Domingo's Los Angeles Opera is that it is a company willing to take chances. The bad news is that the performances are presented in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which has appalling acoustics – and this from someone who has had to live with the Hummingbird Centre – in other words, an expert in bad sound.
The LAO's compelling new production of Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" bears the intriguing vision of Hollywood legend, actor/director Maximilian Schell, and the marvellous designs of Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based visual artist Gottfried Helnwein. Whether one agrees with Schell's approach, at least the man carries through. He has clearly worked his concept out to its maximum conclusion and has not pulled back in its execution.
Obviously Schell has taken very seriously the lines of librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal that occur near the end of the opera – that the bizarre situations the characters have just endured have been a masquerade, a Viennese farce. Schell has manifested these words as a mix of commedia dell'arte, French buffon grotesquerie, surprising modernisms, and period authenticity – all colour coordinated, make-up included. For example, when Octavian (mezzo-soprano Alice Coote) is with the Marschellin (soprano Adrianne Pieczonka), he has been reduced to a pale shade of blue with a ghostly white face and drab brown hair. During the next two acts, Octavian grows in colour – a shimmering burnished silver with Sophie (soprano Elizabeth Futral) in the second act, which is transformed into a vibrant cranberry red by the final scene. If the aging and moody Marschellin's boudoir is a shadowy blue, the house of the newly-made aristocrat Faninal (baritone Robert Bork) is a lustrous gold, while the accent colour in the inn is a lusty red. Bass Kurt Rydl got lots of laughs for his Baron Ochs, first in bombastic orange, then in flamboyant scarlet, face included.
Schell's vision also abounds with other fascinating elements, like oversize photographs of young girls dotting the walls of the inn – a voyeur's dream of debauchment – or the Marschellin's little African page performing hip hop when no one is looking. He has also begun each act with snippets of Robert Wiene's 1926 silent film of "Der Rosenkavalier'" that shows Octavian at war, where life is not a farce, and where, in the face of death, he is thinking back to these more innocent times.
An opera, however, rests on its music, and sadly, while maestro Kent Nagano conducted with an élan that accented key dramatic elements in Strauss' score, the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, particularly concert master Stuart Canin, was not entirely up to the demands. Obbligato passages that should have shimmered in poignancy, were scuttled by insecure playing. First rate singing, happily, saved the day. Toronto home town girl Piezoncka gave a radiant performance, with her beautiful voice, at once sweet and powerful, capturing the stately, mature nuances of the Marschellin's intense humanity and complex personality. British-born Coote was nothing short of sensational. A high mezzo-soprano with a luscious, full-bodied sound, she can also act up a storm. No wonder her career is taking off like a rocket. The charming Rydl can still dominate the stage, although there is a tell-tale wobble in his high notes that signify the twilight of a distinguished life in opera. Alas, the usually reliable Futral was in sad decline in her upper register, a strain perhaps due to singing too much and too often. Bork is a nice discovery, a firm-voiced baritone with a crystalline sound, and it is always good to hear character tenor Laciura who always is on the mark. Thompson has a robust, fruity sound that makes her one to watch, while Foster in her small role was more than serviceable. She too is a singer that bears watching.
From Los Angeles, I'm Paula Citron, arts reviewer for CLASSICAL 96.3 FM.
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005, with Maximilian Schell, Los Angeles Opera




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