Review: The Met’s New ‘Rosenkavalier’ Moves Timelessly Forward with a Timeless Renée Fleming
By Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, April 14, 2017
After nearly fifty years, the Metropolitan Opera has staged a crisp, colorful, audacious and ultimately elegant new production of Richard Strauss’s touching comedy, Der Rosenkavalier. And in it the Met placed a cast that should, and will be, the envy of any house. This lead by the wondrous Renée Fleming as the Marschallin — a role she has rightfully claimed as her own over the past twenty-five years.
Fleming, who retires the role with this production, and director Robert Carsen, who moves the time of the piece to 1911 Vienna to unusually solid effect, drove pre-curtain excitement. But this cast and the trio of Fleming, Elïna Garanča and the lovely American soprano Erin Morley, thrill once the curtain rises.
Each of these women is beautiful. And each is gifted. Morley (Salt Lake City stock) sings Sophie with confidence, a vibrant voice speckled with delicacy throughout her range. Garanča has a simply stunning sound, with a technique as solid as an old-world stone foundation and a tone as rich and satisfying as Viennese dark chocolate.
And the three are solid actors. The relationships between and among are complex and touching. The fact that Garanča, a beauty herself, makes an equally beautiful seventeen year-old man greases the gears. But these three women need little grease to produce the astonishing theatrical event that is the Met’s current Rosenkavalier.
Beyond the enviable cast that surrounds this trio, clever decisions abound. The set by Paul Steinberg, three different rooms with sound classical architectural proportions, is both vast and intimate and sits more comfortably on the Met’s cavernous space than many. Bass Günther Groissböck’s fantastically sung Baron Ochs Auf Lerchenau is frighteningly sadistic, raising the stakes for his struggle with Sophie and most interestingly, the Marschallin. Act III takes place in a bordello, and while this and a few other decisions may stretch some bounds, there is generally a solid payoff. Och’s first halucination, a man in skivvies looking for a lost watch, is location-appropriate hysterical, a location that offers the director both circus-like opening color and subtle tempering as the opera dims to its quiet, sublime conclusion.
The other payoff in moving the time of the piece (Strauss set the action in 1740) is that it enhances the central character’s approachability and modernizes the aching theme of the work, which is the passage of time. The passage of time.
“I vowed to love him well, and to love his love when the time came… I just didn’t think that time would come so soon”
…sings Fleming as her character reconciles to loss, a loss she has fought. Time comes soon. ‘Stop the clocks’ she sings earlier and I couldn’t agree more, watching Fleming take her sure path with a lazar-sharp accuracy. Over decades with the role (a favorite she tells ZEALnyc), Fleming has crafted an exquisite one. And like pulling away a gauze curtain, Carsen ditches powdered wigs (costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel) and exposes the path, that none of us escape, with a greater immediacy than we’ve seen in Rosenkavalier in the past.
But past is past. And while a technologically advanced racing suit may give a powerful swimmer incremental advantage, it is the power of the swimmer that wins the race.
And there is no more operatic power than that possessed by Renée Fleming. Her portrayal of the Marschallin is sensitive and controlled – not an extraneous gesture, movement or thought. Less is more for her and Fleming, in this role, is riveting. It’s a performance that goes up against that of any singing actor – Stratas, Behrens…name another. Vocally, Fleming’s renowned sumptuous sound has only slightly retrenched with age – ever so. She is smart, and she navigates her vocal journey with the shrewdness of that of her character work. The sound is stunning. And in this intelligently cast production, the sound, as a sound, is a sound that is just right.
Speaking of stunning, the monumental Act III trio, on the cords of these three, is ‘not-a-recording-studio-in-the-world-could-improve’ beautiful. In-the-house stunning. Equally stunning is Carsen’s careful trio staging on this set that is both vast and intimate – staging that enunciates time’s journey for the Marschallin, for Octavian and Sophie, and for us all. A journey that is both intimate and vast.
Time marches on. So now is the time to see the Met’s brilliant new Der Rosenkavalier.
Soprano Renée Fleming speaks with ZEALnyc here.
The Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb speaks with ZEALnyc here.
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss plays at the Metropolitan Opera House through May 13th. It is directed by Robert Carsen with set designs by Paul Steinberg, costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, choreography by Philippe Giraudeau and is conducted by Sebastian Weigle.
The cast includes Elīna Garanča (Octavian), Renée Fleming (the Marschallin), Günther Groissböck (Baron Ochs), Matthew Polenzani (Italian Singer), Markus Brück (Herr von Fannial), Erin Morley (Sophie) as well as Billy Conahan, Scott Scully, Marco Jordão, Ross Benoliel, Daniel Clark Smith, Edward Hanlon, Sidney Fortner, Maria D’Amato, Christina Thomson Anderson, Rosalie Sullivan, Anne Nonnemacher, Dustin Lucas, James Courtney, Alan Oke, Helene Schneidermann, Tom Watson, Patrick Stoffer, Susan Neves, Mark Schowalter, Frank Colardo, Tony Stevenson, Brian Frutiger, Bradley Garvin, Brian Kontes, Christopher Job and Scott Conner.
Cover: Renée Fleming in Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Der Rosenkavalier;’ photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera