Scott M Williamson
Rosenkavalier at the MET
By request, a belated sharing of the notes for my Rosenkavalier talk prior to Saturday's final MET "Live in HD" broadcast of a brilliant new production I was lucky enough to see at the house this past Tuesday.
MET Rosenkavalier HD notes (from MET playbill, essays, etc.):
NYT devoted a full page to 1911 Dresden premiere: "R.S. Enters the Field of Comic Opera"
50 performances within first season at Dresden; international sensation; never left repertoire...
2nd Strauss / Hofmannsthal opera, after Elektra; Ariadne, Arabella & Die Frau ohne Schatten follow
Social comedy – homage to Mozart (Cherubino – Countess) – blend of satire and romance/erotica –
unique world created by Hofmannsthal & Count Harry Kessler (fascinating, brilliant, under-appreciated figure-of-letters, diplomat and spy, "the most cultured man in the world" is how Auden described him) Libretto based on French comic sources Kessler recommended to H. v. H. – operetta by Claude Terrasse, based on the 18th c. erotic novel, The Adventures of Count (Chevalier) Faublas – mixed with characters from a social satire play by Molière
Strauss called H. v. H. his “Da Ponte and Scribe rolled into one”
H. created a “speech costume” for each character [cf: Susannah & Floyd’s dialect(s)]
Strauss creates different sound-worlds to match – opening music brilliantly depicts lovemaking, in the so-called “decadent”, expressionist, or fin-de-siecle style: Octavian’s youthful rush in the bursting horn fanfares, followed by the Marschallin’s grown-up, slow-building climax and release (the first of an evocative series of musical images from Strauss, the master of the ‘tone poem’...)
Great 20th c. German operatic comedy, following Wagner’s Meistersinger and Mozart’s Magic Flute, and even more a propos, his Da Ponte satire/romantic comedy, Marriage of Figaro
Wagner’s 1500 Nuremberg is paralleled by their 1740 Vienna, a “half-real, half-imaginary totality” (H.) – the fictional half accommodates musical anachronisms, like the Viennese waltz (that didn’t exist in the 18th century) – like Mozart/Da Ponte and Wagner, not content to say "opera in 3 acts", Strauss/Hofmannsthal assign original title for their sui generis creation: “a comedy set to music”
S. parodies (=flatters) Puccini and honors his friend and contemporary Gustav Mahler (whose Viennese set designer worked with Hofmannsthal on the premiere) - indebted to Verdi’s Falstaff (=Ochs)
H. paid homage not only to Molière and Da Ponte, but Shakespeare, Beaumarchais, and Wagner himself (Octavian echoes Tristan, cursing the day which ends the night of love…) – via Kessler, he also re-creates the world of Hogarth (influence behind the Mozart-inspired Auden/Stravinsky Rake’s Progress)
Strauss working title: Ochs von Lerchenau | H: Der Rosenkavalier –
The most famous/successful work of one of opera's greatest partnerships; ranks as one of the last great contributions to the core repertory (especially in German - Strauss is heir to the Wagner - Beethoven - Weber - Mozart operatic tradition..., and in the 20th century is equalled perhaps only by Berg...)
anecdote: “I am R. S., composer of Der Rosenkavalier" (the composer's laconic response to the Allied Soldiers who knocked on the ex-Nazi's door upon the liberation of Germany at the end of WWII...)
MET new production is true to the original spirit – the unique comedy which is its own distinct world the way different types of comedy, from Commedia dell’arte to Chaplin, the Marx Brothers to Lenny Bruce are each their own brand (thank you, James Levine, and especially for the Troyanos/Kiri/Moll/Blegen production from the 80's... I could gush...)
Stylish and engaging new Carsen production is set in the period of the opera’s creation, the Belle Epoque, Secessionist, fin-de-siècle world of 1911 Vienna - Europe moving towards the “Great War”;
era of great change, social upheaval & liberation, rapidly progressing technological changes (thus, an era like our own...)
Carsen captures the uneasy relationship between the classes, the ambiguously fluid nature of sexuality and gender in the age of Freud and Jung, in the "spring awakening" years of the social sciences…
Stellar cast led by Renée’s valedictory outing as the Marschallin, with star turns by the other three leads: Elina Garanca, in a theatrical tour-de-force as the gender-bending title character; Erin Morley as a radiant Sophie, and Günther Groissböck as a scene-stealing Baron Ochs. Oh, and Matthew Polenzani plays the part of Caruso with vocal bravura to match his spot-on get-up. And he was the HD Host.
Luxury casting of Valzacchi and Annina with Alan Oke and Helene Schneiderman. And Tony Stevenson's turn in drag as a madame of an Innkeeper was brilliant! Bravi tutti!
My thoughts now turn to Ariadne, another Mozart-like mixture of high/low, buffa/seria, 'one eye moist and one eye dry' (as its creators described the intended effect of Rosenkavalier.
(Ariadne auf Naxos is the Strauss opera best-suited for Roanoke, and its from a major composer still absent from our main-stage repertory, and largely absent from this entire region's repertory of "classical" music...)