Saturday, August 19, 2017
Chances are you’ve been wallowing in Wagner all week, and I head up den Grünen Hügel tomorrow for eight days, so it’s time for some attractive and very young singers, coloratura with embellishments, and high notes galore: La fille du regiment from Wiener Staatsoper with Julie Fuchs and John Tessier. If Fuchs’ name sounds familiar she was the Zerlina in the Don Giovanni broadcast from Aix earlier this month. The petite French soprano is at the dawn of a most promising career: coming up are Nanette at the Bastille, La Comtesse in Le Comte Ory at the Opéra Comique, Morgana in Alcina at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Pamina in Hamburg, and Monteverdi’s Poppea in a Calixto Bieto production in Zürich. Canadian tenor Tessier already has 10 Tonios under his belt at Wiener Staatsoper, so he’s popped out at least 90 Donizetti high Cs to go along with those in Il barbiere di Siviglia and I Puritani. A master of the Mozart tenor roles, he’s sung them at New York City Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia, as well as Pasquale in Haydn’s Orlando Paladino and Acis and Galatea at Glimmerglass Opera. Werther has been his most recent triumph, prompting an Edmonton critic to write, “There is something very special about his tenor voice: there is a colour, a kind of tiny musical accent, to his sound that is entirely his. Jon Vickers and Jussi Björling had something similar, with the result that their voices are instantly recognizable.” It’s hard for me to think of Carlos Álvarez as a “veteran,” but the Wiener Staatsoper Kammersänger made his company debut in 1995 as Rossini’s Figaro, and at the Met the following season as Germont père. He returns to Wien in the coming season as the High Priest in a new Samson et Dalila with Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna, Mozart’s Figaro, Escamillo, and more performances as Sulpice, a role he’s sung in every performance here of Laurent Pelly’s well-traveled production since its 2007 premiere with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. While Wien counts Montserrat Caballé and Kiri Te Kanawa among its interpreters of La Duchesse de Crakentorp, another veteran and Kammersängerin, company mainstay Ildikó Raimondi, who debuted as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in 1991, vamps up the cameo role with a Gershwin tune. (Gee, I wish Ljuba Welitsch had done the same in her Met performances!) Post scriptum: For those of you who can’t get enough, here’s the Bayreuth Meistersinger which opened last Tuesday, which I’ll be attending a week from today. And here’s Thursday’s Parsifal , too, which I’ll be seeing on Saturday.
“Gods are hard for mortals to see”—Homer (trans. Gregory Nagy), Hymn to Demeter In his book Literature and the Gods, Roberto Calasso bemoans a dearth of the divine in modernity. “There was a time,” he sighs, “when the gods were not just a literary cliché, but an event, a sudden apparition…” It’s worth unpacking this claim for its presupposed nostalgia for the ancient past, where magic and mortality apparently coexisted within the material world. But are things really quite so different today? What have we lost in these end times? Personally, Calasso’s statement resonates with me; I feel anemic, yet inundated with information—text, sound, image. One rarely has a chance to linger over beauty, to champion it, to surrender to a god, to enter the cult. Calasso cites reading as our touchstone to the divine. Nevertheless, he (somewhat condescendingly) suggests that this activity is, in fact, not an invocation of the gods at all, but a parody of them. That being said, a part of me still identifies with Calasso; I understand his search for the divine. It is heaven (literally!) to brush up against a god, to enter into its cult, to worship. However, it’s also worth looking further (and perhaps beyond) Calasso’s assertion in order to break it down, to refuse his claim for its bleak, modernist notion that the gods have long been consigned to the pages of literature. Are the gods located truly and solely on paper, as flattened imitations of themselves, acting out in parody? Or, are there other channels through which one might encounter the divine. My hope is that Calasso is being a bit shortsighted. My hope is that there are ways to bear witness to gods and goddesses outside acts of reading, beyond parody. Which is to say: let us put our faith in a different liturgy. Words and music still bring the congregation together in ceaseless adoration. Published in 1975, James McCourt’s novel Mawrdew Czgowchwz is engaged with a similar longing for the divine. And it is, perhaps, a welcomed antidote (or complication) to Calasso’s claim that the gods have retreated solely to the modalities of literature. A rambunctious, difficult book, the novel charts the apotheosis of an opera singer known as Mawrdew Czgowchwz, an artist in possession of a voluminous talent. With a threadbare plot, the narrative traces her rise, fall, and resurrection as both an artist and persona, all the while cataloguing the praise, condemnations, and exhortations hurled at the diva by her public. Overflowing with language—argots and slang—the novel offers one a vision into the sub-culture of opera fandom. As Wayne Koestenbaum writes in an introduction for the novel, “The weird drag persona of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, like Myra Breckinridge, gives voice—and, almost a body—to artistic preoccupation, or to the sensibility of men, and women, too, who, in the 1960s and earlier, put their considerable mental resources into connoisseurship, aesthetic partisanship, and standing on the line [at the old Metropolitan Opera]” This is the language of a highly coded and highly ritualized milieu. It is hyperbolic, fraught, magical—hexes even appear within the novel, a plot point that both suggests the power of faith and language, within the verbal ecologies of fandom, and hearkens back to the supernaturalism of Calasso’s antiquity. Verbose, linguistically dilated, and rooted in pre-Stonewall aesthetics, McCourt’s artistic preoccupation, beyond the practice of diva-worship, is primarily language. Sentences unspool as unruly and uncontainable as a virus. Nothing in the novel is particular gay, but the text itself serves as a significant contribution to a strange and alien queer literacy, a lost art in our sanitized queerness (McCourt would take up these concerns again in his later, non-fiction work Queer Street). Certain signifiers, difficult to recount due to the ontology of cruising, reverberate beneath the surface of the text, conjuring a different time, a different age, a different scene; these signs prove legible only to a select few—the elect, as McCourt would undoubtedly put it. This term—elect—is deployed by McCourt to describe those opera fans pulled into the orbit of the main character, diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz. With its connotations of ritual, theology, and soteriology, the elect is a frustrating notion—especially if one has not been summoned into the cult to practice “Mawrdolatry,” as McCourt articulates it. Ah! To be marked out at some prior vetting, one’s soul determined fit enough for the task at hand! It is a stance that looks from the inside out, from a vantage point of aesthetic privilege. Superiority attends those who count themselves as members. They smugly consider the unenlightened: the walking dead, mindless as zombies, blind to the glories brandished by their god. In McCourt’s novel this generates a system of camps, allegiances and alliances. For example, the novel opens with a description of the cult of Morgana Neri (I Neriani), a WWII era diva on the decline: Neri’s opinions on everything and everyone in music were recited in antiphon over tables littered with clippings, reviews, vile coffee, and majestically autographed glossies of the diva, in black and white and in sepia (none of a later vintage than the last year before the war). Neri was considered ageless, her voice deemed eternal. The elders, who could actually speak of the Neri debut, were revered by intimates as prior saints. Wire recordings of Neri broadcast performances passed like transcripts of the Orphic mysteries from fool to fool. But, as the novel details in a filigree of gossip and wit, Neri’s reign will come to an end beneath the shadow of the novel’s eponymous heroine, “whence the Neriad [takes] a turn for the tragic.” Mawrdew will unseat the diva with her art: “She wedded music to mimicry to create ‘musicry.’ She was the definitive diva, she still is.” And so the culture of Neri disintegrates (notwithstanding a few malicious stabs at retribution), and the cult of Czgowchwz ascends. As Koestenbaum suggests, Mawrdew Czgowchwz is based on a composite of Maria Callas and Victoria de los Ángeles: “Partly Callas, partly de los Ángeles,” Koestenbaum writes, “Ms. Czgowchwz is an amalgam of every great singer.” McCourt’s personal devotion to de los Ángeles colors his writing with a delicious, pink cloud of nostalgia and affection. And the influence of Maria Callas, regarding the character’s elegance and glamour, is undeniable. Mawrdew, like Callas, manages to evince both a public persona, as well as indicate toward a more private, mysterious interiority. For as much as Callas suffered and lived for her art (Vissi d’arte!), her public persona was consumed by it, and so she remained surprisingly private in other ways. One thinks of the famous photographs of Callas in recital. Dazzling, draped like a Grecian goddess (a Greek-American, resident of Athens—namesake of Pallas Athena), she bewitches through contradiction. She pours out her art, beckoning the spectator (one feels like a moth drawn to the flame), and yet she eschews our approach. She is formidable, yet alluring. Similarly, much of Mawrdew’s thoughts, within the novel’s promiscuous angles of vision, go unrecorded, serenely opaque. She drifts through Gotham, lovely and withholding—except, perhaps, through the generosity of her voice. Like the gods on Olympus, one wonders: what is going on up there in her head? What does it feel like to possess such earth-shaking talent? Never mind. We don’t need to know; rather, it is better to bask in the delicious, inviolable mystery of her talent, the esoteric practices of the artist’s inner sanctum. Is there a current correlative? Who is central to our cult these days, or have the gods—as Calasso suggests—slipped into the abyss of history? In these dreadful times, we pursue our devotion. We long to love, to adore, to worship. Where is our goddess? It seems like the very concept is the vestige of a long, lost past. As Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker last week, regarding the state of fandom at the Met: The days are over when the crowd [at the Metropolitan Opera] was filled with voice geeks who could identify transpositions, cuts, and optional high notes. Such people still exist, but their numbers have dwindled, not least because rising ticket prices have made habitual attendance harder. You hear less informed buzz around you; you see more people sneaking looks at their phones. And much of McCourt’s novel circles around the standing line at the old Metropolitan Opera, where hymns of praise and curses abound. The novel is valuable in that it feels like dipping into that long forgotten pool, bathing in a language that dried up through the days of HIV/AIDS and, more recently, the mainstreaming (hetero-washing?) of legalized gay marriage. It’s bittersweet. I am happy gays can get married. But what happened to the notion of being elected? Where is the glitz, the glamour, of Mawrdew? It’s not just a question of the voice. There are a number of fine singers strutting across the stage. For example, Elina Garanca is a surefooted vocalist. Nina Stemme is an extremely capable musician and singer, especially in light of her repertoire. There are Angela Meade, Sonya Yoncheva, Latonia Moore, Jamie Barton, Marina Rebeka, Nadine Sierra, Anja Harteros, Tamara Wilson, Isabel Leonard, Tamara Mumford, Anita Hartig and etcetera. But each of them lacks an essential element to catapult them into the stratosphere, to bring about their apotheosis, to provoke worship. Even Renée Fleming, whose instrument is of the highest quality, whose ubiquitous presence is the standard of perfection (though, perhaps, airbrushed within an inch of her life), remains “the people’s diva,” much like her predecessor Bubbles. Nice is fine, but goddesses are not nice. We fear and love the divine. Nobody wants to worship the girl next door. Which brings me to Anna Netrebko. Who else embodies the super-human, scorching star-wattage of this singular Russian soprano? Talk about (to borrow Calasso’s language) the god as event, a sudden apparition! Who else has the gravitas, the vocal chutzpah, the deranged fashion sense, the will and bravado to sing badly and then sing really well—in short: a willingness to put on a show, on and off the stage? Netrebko, whose vocal prowess has recently surmounted her off-stage persona, is a life-affirming performer (“I heard from someone—I can’t remember his name—that she’s studying with a new teacher in Berlin”). Generous, indulgent, voluptuous—a contradiction: both heavenly and earthly. The sexiest thing about her is her voice (and I am well aware of her physical beauty). One can imagine her decked in the armor of Athena, blazing across the battlefield. Her weapon is her singing, like a laser, melting the flesh of her adversaries. So, I think it’s a conversation worth having. What has happened to the elect? Have they dissipated, unbound by the absence of a proper diva? Have our goddesses absconded the stage? Or, am I being a shrill alarmist (a la Calasso), ringing my hands over nothing? As a writer for Parterre, I have thought often of McCourt lately—the work his novel engages with is the work all of us at Parterre engage with. One aches and longs for Mawrdew, or some variant of the diva. As Calasso writes in his book, “The world…has no intention of abandoning enchantment altogether, because even if it could, it would get bored.” There’s nothing I want more, as a critic and operagoer, than to heap lavish praise on a deserving deity. If I could invoke her, whoever she is, I would. But, alas, I’m not a priest of the elect. I wait and search, longing for the goddess to return, the bright flash of her parousia lighting up the stage at Lincoln Center.
Endlessly extricating her from existing contracts then negotiating new ones must make being Sonya Yoncheva’s manager the hardest job in the music business. The biggest recent switcheroo (but not the latest) means she will perform her first-ever Tosca at the opening of the Met’s new production New Year’s Eve. For those curious how she might fare in that iconic role “Trove Thursday” presents the Bulgarian soprano in an opera that premiered just a year before Puccini’s “shabby little shocker”: Mascagni’s Iris. I first heard Yoncheva a decade ago when she was performing at Alice Tully Hall as part of the third edition of “Le Jardin des Voix,” a biennial program for young singers created by William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. I don’t recall her standing out among the ten singers that evening but by the next year she was debuting at the Glyndebourne Festival in the propitious role of Fortuna in L’Incoronazione di Poppea. For the next few years her repertoire included a lot of 17th and 18th century opera—Vénus is Rameau’s Dardanus and Serpina and Agata in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Il Flaminio, and eventually Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare. Winning the 2010 edition of Placido Domingo’s “Operalia” meant that she would soon have the good fortune to sing the title role in Monteverdi’s final opera . I heard her again the year of the “Operalia” win as Dido in a LAF@BAM staging of Purcell’s opera in which her decidedly un-HIP portrayal—richly sung and throbbing with emotion—contrasted strikingly with her more restrained colleagues. Yet she could be effective in those early operas as a chunk from Sacchini’s best-known work Œdipe à Colone illustrates. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQ7R29K9KJo Her “destiny” to replace other singers began auspiciously in 2012 when she seized all four roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann from Natalie Dessay at a gala Paris concert conducted by Marc Minkowski. Next Aleksandra Kurzak’s pregnancy occasioned her Met debut as Gilda in 2013 ahead of a previously scheduled first appearance as Musetta. Also at the Met she sang her first staged Mimi and an acclaimed Violetta, both times substituting for a soprano who had withdrawn or—in Marina Poplavskaya’s case—crashed and burned. For those heroic rescues Yoncheva was awarded opening night of the 2015-16 season and her first Desdemona in the new Otello proved a grand success . Inevitably the Met soon found itself on the bad end of all this soprano juggling when it last fall released its Mimi to accommodate her most high-profile substitution yet: stepping in at Covent Garden for Anna Netrebko who had decided she really didn’t like Norma after all. Despite the scoffing of pre-premiere skeptics Yoncheva (who had earlier subbed there for Netrebko as Marguerite in Faust) received mostly laudatory reviews. Now however the shoe seems to have migrated to the other foot: last year she avoided a prestigious series of Alcinas with Philippe Jarrousky, and 2017 has brought even more cancelations. She dropped out of Eugene Onegin in Paris declaring the role no longer suited her and just this month she withdrew from Traviata during Munich’s summer festival. As Baden-Baden saw her save its Nozze di Figaro (and the subsequent DG recording) several years ago when Diana Damrau fell out as the Countess, it must now soldier on without her Vitellia in Clemenza di Tito which premieres tonight surprisingly starring Rolando Villazon in the title role. Marina Rebeka replaces her for the two concerts and presumably the CD. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of both Nozze and Clemenza, was to have conducted Yoncheva’s first Tosca with his Philadelphia Orchestra next May (the orchestra’s website still claims it will be her role debut) but Andris Nelsons (the previously scheduled Tosca’s husband) has that honor… at least for now. But before that New Year’s Eve premiere she sings her first Elisabeth in Don Carlos in a starry Krzysztof Warlikowski production in Paris conducted by Philippe Jordan alongside Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier and Ildar Abdrazakov. And after Tosca come two other new operas—Luisa Miller at the Met and La Scala’s first Il Pirata since Maria Callas performed it there 60 years ago. Whew—I’m already exhausted! A very odd opera with some glorious moments, Iris has only occasionally been mounted–for passionate Italian divas like Clara Petrella, Magda Olivero, and Daniela Dessì. But it did have a rare, memorable revival just last summer at Bard Summerscape. After the Norma was announced, I frankly expected Yoncheva to withdraw from this Iris concert in Montpellier to give her time to absorb that difficult Bellini role, but she did indeed appear…conducted by her husband Domingo Hindoyan who makes his Met debut next season leading L’Elisir d’Amore. If all goes according to the schedule of the moment, the Met’s 2017-2018 season will see Yoncheva starring in an unprecedented three out of ten HD transmissions: Tosca, La Bohème and Luisa Miller. Mascagni: Iris Le Corum Opera, Montpellier 26 July 2016 Broadcast Sonya Yoncheva — Iris Andrea Carè — Osaka Gabriele Viviani — Kyoto Nikolay Didenko — Il Cieco Chœur Opéra national Montpellie Chœur de la Radio Lettone Orchestre national Montpellier Domingo Hindoyan — conductor Iris can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, more than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available from iTunes —for free, or via any RSS reader .
On this recording, Elīna Garanča performs music by Mozart and Vivaldi. Mozart: Deh, se piacermi vuoi (from La clemenza di Tito) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Temerari!…Come scoglio! (from Così fan tutte) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Se l’augellin sen fugge (from La finta giardiniera) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Và pure ad altri in braccio (from La finta giardiniera) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Ah, scostati!…Smanie implacabili, che m’agitate (from Così fan tutte) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Ch’io mi scordi di te?… Non temer, amato bene, K505 Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Vivaldi: Quel ciglio vezzosetto (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi E bella Irene (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Non ho nel sen costanza (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Ah disperato Andronico! (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi La sorte mia spietata (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Lascerò di regnare (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Spesso tra vaghe rose (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Coronata di giglie e rose (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Performed by Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano) Elīna Garanča’s velvety, versatile voice makes her one of the outstanding singers of the present day, of that there can be no doubt. She followed up her international breakthrough at the Salzburg Festival with two celebrated CD releases in 2005 that laid the foundation of her rich discography: a Mozart recital and the world premiere of Vivaldi’s opera Bajazet. The present album combines the loveliest moments from these recordings. Listen now as Ms. Garanca Sings two arias from Mozaer’s nozzle di Figaro:
Cinemark Theaters, Hazlet, NJ. Theater 11 (Seat C9, $28.22). Story. See previous post. The only thing I would add is Act 1 is devoted to describing the love affair between Octavian and the Marschallin, and the conflict the latter feels as she realizes she is aging and must let Octavian go. Conductor – Sebastian Weigle. Octavian – Elina Garanca, The Marschallin – Renee Fleming, Baron Ochs - Gunther Groissbock, An Italian Singer – Matthew Polenzani, Herr von Faninal – Markus Bruck, Sophie – Erin Morley. This series of performances was to be Fleming’s last in her role of the Marschallin, and all of the performances were sold out, which is to be expected. I didn’t want to pay a ton of money for one of the last remaining seats, so buying a Met: Live in HD ticket seemed to make good sense. Anne was away with a church group, so I went to this screening by myself. Inside Cinemark Theater 11 in Hazlet, NJ. We saw this in December, 2013, and I called it “too much of a good thing.” It was a double-header Strauss day for us, as we also had an afternoon concert with Ein Heldenleben in the program. Today’s experience was much more enjoyable. This is a new set, with all scenery based on this corner of a room. The other set began its service in 1969, so it was time for a replacement. I don’t remember much of the old set, but my blog seemed to indicate it worked reasonably well. I am not sure this set has that many new aspects to truly amaze, the only “razzle-dazzle” was when the pictures turned into moving figures. The old set depicted an opulent Vienna, the new setting is around 1911 (when the opera was written) so there is a heavy military theme to the costumes. All good, and I suppose the large expenditure must be in part driven to make this a splash farewell for Fleming. Of course, the last time I saw this the opera had a 30-minute delay because they had trouble with the set. The music was much more accessible to me this time around. I could appreciate how the orchestra worked with the singers in one integrated production. A vocal technician may appreciate how the different singers performed, I just hoped they tuned the mikes to pick up more of the vocal lines. I have appreciated Fleming more in other roles she played. One bright spot was Erin Morley, she depicted well Sophie as a defiant girl who wanted to find her own way. I had seen her a few times before, including as Sophie, and she didn’t sound as good or convincing in those instances. The role of Ochs required quite a range (low C to G#), I didn’t catch all the instances when those notes were sung, but the couple of times I caught a low note (E perhaps) they sounded very weak. I complained that I found the Act 3 three-women trio very confusing in the 2013 performance. I am happy report it was much clearer this time. I still have to learn to appreciate how it is “a gorgeous blend of female voices that is among the supreme accomplishments of lyric theater.” Polenzani had a cameo role as an Italian singer who serenaded the Marschallin for a few minutes. His voice clearly stood out. He was also the host during the intermissions. I caught a few minutes of his interviews with the cast, and that’s where I learned about Ochs’s range and Morley doing a more dependent Sophie. The theater has these comfortable reclining chairs with full-length footrests. My seat was in the third row, so it was very close to the screen. Two problems. One is that I had to tilt my head back even with the seat reclined. The bigger problem is there is too much detail in the close up shots. A diplomatic comment would be “I could see the stitching in the costumes.” A less diplomatic one would be an even bigger suspension of belief is needed if the Marschallin is to be thought of as 32 years old. The New York Times review is one of the longest I have seen, and other than a small pan here of there, is effusive. There is also an article on Fleming's final curtain call. Other reviews are equally enthusiastic. Most operas I have seen were live performances, and they do feel different. A clear example was people just walked out after the screening, there was no way to show appreciation to the singers.
If everything you see is great, you are either new to opera or chronically easy to please. Neither condition is anything of which to be ashamed, but the development of standards over a period of years is something to be embraced. Standards make it mean more when something really is worth raving over. No matter how much you see, if you go back often enough, you will have one of those evenings (or afternoons, as the case may be) when all the stars align, the right people and the right work come together at the right time, and the result lives up to or exceeds every reasonable expectation. You feel happy to be alive and going to the opera at the time the performance took place. The Met HD of Der Rosenkavalier on May 13 was a high-inducing performance. There have been equally good performances in this decade-long series, though not many. There has been none better. Director Robert Carsen‘s view of the 1911 Strauss/Hofmannsthal evergreen has not changed greatly since his 2004 Salzburg staging. Although he has different designers this time (his Falstaff team of Paul Steinberg on sets and Brigitte Reiffenstuel on costumes, replacing Salzburg’s Peter Pabst), the outer acts look very similar. Details of the direction have been retained, such as Annina’s larcenous revenge on Ochs at the end of the second act. Siegmund Freud has been replaced by some military medics following the “duel,” among other minor differences. New choreography for the Presentation of the Rose, while elegant and lovely in itself, seems to be in this production solely because Mr. Carsen wanted to work with the worthy Philippe Giraudeau again. In a broader sense, Mr. Carsen has been consistent in his approach and his focus. This is Rosenkavalier as a response to its own era. The director has set the opera in an increasingly decadent Vienna on the eve of the Great War, and emphasized humor, sexual politics and the twilight of an era. My colleague Christopher Corwin‘s comparison to Renoir’s La Règle de Jeu, in his review of opening night, is apt. In the recent parterre box video overview, I commented that Mr. Carsen’s Salzburg Rosenkavalier was “funny, sexy and thought-provoking.” I left it implied, in the context of various productions discussed, that other Rosenkavaliers have tugged harder at the heartstrings. All of this remains the case. It was the performers and their circumstances that supplied a new emotional dimension at the Met on May 13. Two of our great stars, Renée Fleming (the Marschallin) and Elina Garanca (Octavian), were performing for the last time roles in which they have been good, and roles that have been good to them in return. Beyond that, we had the unusual situation of an HD broadcast of the final performance in a series, rather than, say, the fifth of eight. There was perceptible electricity in everyone’s work, the adrenaline that comes from the finish line being in sight, with no need to save anything. I have not heard the Met’s orchestra sound better in the 2016-17 season than it did today under the leadership of German conductor Sebastian Weigle. His reading was “deliberate” not in the sense of unusual slowness (the maestro did allow his Marschallin to milk), but in an insistence on the precise articulation of phrases, and in the elucidation of fine details within the blend. I often have complained that the in-theater sound of the Met HDs prioritizes voices to the point that the orchestral contribution is distant and soupy. Even the sound balance seemed improved today. Maestro Weigle replaced the originally scheduled James Levine, who withdrew at the time he relinquished his position of music director more than a year ago. If anyone missed the guiding hand of the venerable music director emeritus this afternoon, I feel it would have to have been on grounds of sentiment. There was nothing to regret in the response of the orchestra, and Maestro Weigle can come visit New York anytime. There were two utterly spectacular, golden-age performances, and the opera’s title character, Octavian, seems an obvious place to start. As transmitted to movie theaters, Ms. Garanca’s voice now sounds huge. She commented in her intermission interview, with regard to changing repertoire, that for so long she has played a young boy chasing girls; now it is time to let the boys chase her. On today’s evidence, she is putting away childish things at the right time, while leaving us a parting gift to savor. Lyric mezzos long ago absconded with a role created by a soprano (Eva von der Osten, an Isolde). We should be so lucky as to have mezzo Octavians of Ms. Garanca’s caliber as the norm. The Latvian’s upper register encompasses Octavian’s higher-lying writing without a hint of strain (near the end, “War ein haus wo” was so juicy and full that I looked forward to Amneris cursing the priests). The bottom is rich, warm, resonant. There was a point at which I was startled by the beauty of the singing in a most unexpected place—the apology to Faninal (“Ein muss mich pardonieren”) came out in lines of such beautiful continuity and evenness that it seemed a fragment of a lost Schubert lied. What Ms. Garanca did on the stage in this production is a forceful rebuttal, or at least a stiff challenge, to any description of her as a “cold” performer. This was a truly heroic Octavian: upright, suave, thoughtful. We can see why the Marschallin will feel his loss, and why Sophie is so lucky to have him enter her life. The operatic stage features no more beautiful face, either as boy or girl, and the mezzo’s Marlene Dietrich impersonation for Mariandel’s Act Three mischief was limber, funny and extremely sexy. The troublesome stretch of Act Three prior to the Marschallin’s arrival, which passes like a sentence of hard time when director and performers are not up to it, has never been more entertaining to me. Nearly matching Ms. Garanca was Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs. I first saw this promising portrayal in Harry Kupfer‘s wistful Salzburg production of three summers ago, and it has matured wonderfully since then. Again Mr. Groissböck is a highly plausible Ochs of a superficially desirable type—young, tall, athletic and handsome—but repellent in words and behavior. Mr. Groissböck expertly delineates Ochs’s journey through Carsen’s inversion of the third act, one of the production’s masterstrokes. Ochs is forced to assume “the defensive position” he had smugly regretted was the lot of women. He finds himself fending off the sexually voracious Mariandel, and when depravity is revealed all around him, and it is beyond his control, he wants to flee a hell of ironic punishment. Mr. Groissböck’s mellow, colorful instrument is most at ease in the Baron’s higher-lying writing, of which there is a great deal in this long part. If there are lower notes he sounds happy to greet and leave, he cheats nothing while making his rounds. His is a highly musical reading of a part in which many a bass has gotten by on desiccated parlando shtick. Just as Ms. Garanca had me anticipating future Amnerises, Mr. Groissböck’s cries of “Mord! Mord! Mein Blut!” and his yelps of pain made me think of Boris Godunov haunted and expiring. I join Our Own JJ in looking forward to much more at the Met from this performer, who first created a stir by making an incestuous Water Goblin riveting, and now has twice made Baron Ochs improbably likable, in two very different productions. It seems there is not much beyond him. Sophie von Faninal is the hard-luck assignment of the four principals, the shortest part and the one Hofmannsthal gave the fewest facets. Once in a while you read appreciation for some soprano who was “unexpectedly” feisty in the part, which shows how challenging it is to review singers in certain roles, because anyone who knows the libretto should expect Sophie to be feisty with Faninal and Ochs. It would be unexpected if she were other than feisty. What was unexpected to me in Erin Morley‘s Sophie for Mr. Carsen was a certain sophistication and precocity. In a lesser production, this might have seemed an off note, a 36-year-old soprano playing a 36-year-old Sophie. Here, it works well. I could imagine this was a Sophie who learned from plays and literature how worldly women spoke, behaved and moved. In a later era, such a young woman would be influenced by ladies of movies and television. Ms. Morley spoke of loving to sing “high, floaty stuff,” and such writing does show her to best advantage. The middle voice is more nondescript and projects less strongly. She looked lovely, creating beautiful stage pictures in scenes with Ms. Garanca, but also establishing a connection that was both emotional and sensual. Carsen’s very physical staging of “Ist ein Traum” thus paid off. Ms. Fleming has done some of the best work of her career in Mr. Carsen’s productions (Alcina, Rusalka, Capriccio and a revival of Eugene Onegin that was overseen by others). She has named him as a favorite director, and it was at her request that he returned to Rosenkavalier at the ROH and the Met in 2016-17. It seems fitting that “the people’s diva” and “the diva next door” is taking her leave of “mainstream” opera, as she calls it, as a good team player. Ms. Fleming must have been aware of the filmed Salzburg Rosenkavalier with Adrianne Pieczonka, and thus must have had an idea that Mr. Carsen’s would not be the most Marschallin-focused Rosenkavalier possible, even within strictures of the characters’ respective stage time. It is to Ms. Fleming’s credit that she wanted to be part of something good, a strong production of the opera under consideration, rather than a personal showcase. At moments on Saturday, one could feel that the clocks had stopped. Ms. Fleming’s high notes still sound with remarkable beauty (the earliest evidence was “Das möcht ich sehn,” the Marschallin’s vow of immovability), and no part of her range has suffered in accuracy of pitch. Inevitably, her seniority and long service were detectable. Broadcast conditions mitigated audibility concerns that might have been an issue in the house in less congenial passages, but microphones also highlighted a growly quality from the lower middle down, where the grit and grain have collected. Ms. Fleming sang parts of the role on Saturday with obvious emotion, and twice I was aware of her reining herself in, guarding against being overcome. She sang as though holding on, not wanting to let go of a departing friend, which just about sums it up. This was not the best-sung Marschallin of her career on technical grounds, but I do not believe anyone went in expecting that from a 58-year-old soprano on an emotional occasion. I could criticize her on some expressive levels—sometimes I wished for a lighter touch, a wider palette of irony, sharper contrasts that really never have been hers to command. It is to her credit that such thoughts did not come to me often. Ms. Fleming admirably played her role in the production, and in the opera: the one character of the five major figures whose aspirations are in the past. Unlike Octavian, the Baron and both Faninals, the Marschallin is never excited about something yet to come. She looks back wistfully, considers the future only with anxiety, sings of wanting time to stand still. No wonder she has been, from the beginning, the favorite of opera audiences. I will not comment on every member of the large, generally good supporting cast. Matthew Polenzani sweetly sang and amusingly acted the Italian tenor’s brutally difficult number. He was done up as a white-suited faux Caruso, as Piotr Beczala was in Salzburg, but Mr. Polenzani sported the iconic moustache. Markus Brück was a rather blunt Faninal, with more voice than some (albeit with a quaver that may or may not have been a character touch), but not finding the humanity of the best. Bass Scott Conner, in his first Met role, was a Police Commissioner to notice. Twenty-four years into his Met career, tenor Tony Stevenson appeared to be having a great time with the Innkeeper’s drag act. The production received a mixed response on its opening night last month, and I doubt this greatly troubled Mr. Carsen. He is a savvy professional who has worked all over the world for 30 years and has heard it all. His Eugene Onegin was savaged by many here 20 years ago, and was cherished by the time of its replacement. I predict his Rosenkavalier will settle in nicely and that new casts will welcome its opportunities. Staging a work such as Rosenkavalier means making choices, and Mr. Carsen and his team intelligently met the challenge here, delivering something valid, entertaining and worth discussing. The premiere cast brought that work to life on the stage and created the illusion of life being lived on the stage. This happens less often than we might hope. I hope Mr. Carsen returns soon and often. If Peter Gelb would like to contact me privately, I will supply names of three repeatedly engaged directors whose future workloads can be lightened to make room. As everyone notes, Rosenkavalier is a “bittersweet” opera, and I was keenly aware today of how that bittersweet quality can be found all throughout it. I suppose we all have realized that the accompaniment to “Nein, nein” (Mariandel’s coquettish vow not to drink wine) returns as the beloved trio’s climax. The frivolous and the profound both are part of life; there is no separating them, and one may even lead to the other, Strauss seems to be telling us. The ridiculous Ochs’s visit prompts the Marschallin’s reverie, and everything that follows. It had never hit me before Saturday afternoon that even one of the most musically joyful moments in Rosenkavalier has a darker tinge. “Bleiben?” Sophie asks in the second act; “…was sie Ist!” replies Octavian. His love is predicated on the keeping of an impossible promise, that this young woman remain exactly what she is on the day he met her. Did the Feldmarschal once have such an expectation of Little Resi? But we do not see things clearly at 17. I also thought about the people around me at the HD screening. It was a senior-heavy crowd, as they usually are, and I overheard some conversations, initiated some others. I heard of a Rosenkavalier a woman attended 40 years ago with her now-late husband, and of favorite singers, favorite operas, memorable performances. I heard much appreciation for the HD series. I talked with a woman from Germany who was seeing and hearing Mr. Groissböck for the first time, and adoring him (she approved of the cast’s pronunciation in general). I heard prolonged applause at the end, for singers and players unable to hear that applause. These operagoers are more than just the canes and walkers and oxygen tubing we notice first; they are an awesome repository of life experience and wisdom. They are still showing up for something new, and many of them are taking it on its terms. We often hear fretting along the lines of “What if this were someone’s first Rosenkavalier?” or “What if this were someone’s first opera?” What is less often asked is “What if this were someone’s last?” Some of the people around me Saturday will not see another Rosenkavalier. Indeed, I may not; no one guarantees us any number of years. If I never saw any other opera, I would feel I went out on a high today. There is a long list of things in life that time erases and memory mocks. Great performances such as Saturday’s will never be on that list. There are no further live performances of Der Rosenkavalier at the Met this season, as the 2016-17 season is now part of the theater’s glorious history. The HD broadcast will receive an encore presentation at most participating theaters on Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. Check local listings, and if you did not go on Saturday, do not miss a second chance. Photo Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera.
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