Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier was the final HD telecast of the Met’s 2016-17 season. It also marked the last appearance of Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Elina Garanca as Octavian. The production by director Robert Carsen was introduced to the Met last month. He sets the action just prior to World War I. Unlike most time shifting in opera, this temporal change works as the feel of the opera with its 19th century style waltz tunes contrasts with it original setting in 1740. There are a few lines of dialogue that contradict an early 20th century setting, but the time change mostly works.

Alas, the rest of Mr Carsen’s production doesn’t work well. The first act is OK, but after that things fall apart. The second act at Faninal’s mansion features two large field mortars. Faninal enters with a large military contingent all carrying guns. So we are to infer that he’s made his fortune as an arms merchant. The weapons are removed only to be replaced by eight or so couples madly dancing away like characters in a Mel Brooks movie. But nothing prepares the viewer for the last act set in a red brocaded bordello. The space is so large that all the comic effects Strauss and Hofmannsthal wrote into the scene are lost. Then Sophie, the Marschallin, and Faninal show up. What are they doing in a brothel? The private room in an inn specified by the libretto is needed to bring off the comic effects and to ratify the appearance of the three characters just mentioned, not the deck of an aircraft carrier full of sex workers.

After the departure of Ochs and the final trio and duet, Sophie and Octavian get on a king sized bed and begin to go at like copulating gerbils. The Marschallin nods approvingly and leaves. Then Faninal looks at his 15 year old daughter who  is about to surrender her virtue and also indicates approval. Carsen should have set the action to the present when humping teenagers are the rule rather than the exception. In what is doubtless a nod to political correctness, Carsen has Mahomet, the Marschallin page, clad like all her other servants. At the curtain, instead of retrieving Sophie’s dropped handkerchief, he runs onstage and an Army led by the absent Field Marshal is shown at the back of the stage. World War I is about to hatch and ruin all the waltzes.

Musically the show was a huge success. I can understand why the 58 year old Fleming is retiring the Marschallin; she’s too old for the part, especially when a TV camera is on top of you. But vocally she has all that one could ask for from the part. Her tone is silvery, well produced, and effortlessly focused. I hope she does not  give up all her operatic parts. She still has a lot to give. Her acting, forgetting the handicaps that Carsen’s production placed on all the performers, was affecting and conveyed her character’s fear of the passage of time.

Elina Garanca, who is only 40, is also giving up her role in Strauss’s comedy. She doubtless will continue to appear in other mezzo staples. She was as convincing a woman entering middle age can be impersonating a 17 year old boy. Vocally she was superb. Her voice is pliant and fully up to the conversational mode of composition Strauss used for most of the opera.

Soprano Erin Morley has a light and shimmering voice that was ideal for the adolescent pawn in her father’s quest for status. At age 36 she too is getting a little old to play a 15 year old girl. The trouble with many operas is that by the time you’re able to sing the part you’re too old to look the part. The three leading women gave the famous trio a first rate reading.

Austrian bass Günther Groissböck was outstanding as the aptly named Baron Ochs (Ox in English). Germans not named Mozart have a problem with comic villains. They tend to come off as mean, nasty, and unfunny. Ochs is an example of this type of teutonic heavy. Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger is another. Groissböck played Ochs as a younger man than the usual portrayal. He also did as much as possible to humanize the bumptious unsophisticated country nobleman.

Matthew Polanzani was a dead ringer for Don Fanucci in The Godfather 2. His white suit and hat along with a broad mustache was meant characterize an early 20th century tenor, not a mid level mafioso; but he looked more like the latter than the former. He sang his aria with a pleasing lyric tenor. Strauss didn’t like tenors and this role was meant to satirize them.

All the supporting singers were first rate. One deserves special recognition.  Markus Brück made his Met debut in this run of Rosenkavalier. His has a lustrous baritone which strongly suggested that he should be given a bigger role by the Met. He has Rigoletto in his repertoire and seemed to have the voice for it.

Conductor Sebastian Weigle led the Met Orchestra in The Magic Flute 16 years ago. He returned to the Met this year for the Strauss opera. He directed the Met’s brilliant orchestra in a finely nuanced reading of Strauss’ miraculous score.

In summary, an outstanding performance of an elephantine production of a great opera. But as fine as Rosenkavalier is, it’s too long. When the Met first did it in 1913 it was cut to a running time of two hours and forty five minutes. Gatti-Casazza, the Met’s general manager, wanted 20 minutes more to be cut. Alfred Hertz, the conductor, refused. Still the show ended at 11:15 pm. I don’t know what could be cut from the opera without losing music of value. So what’s needed is a production that dulls time by it excellence. The performers did their part, but the director let them down.

 

DER ROSENKAVALIER
Richard Strauss-Hugo Von Hofmannsthal

Octavian…………………Elina Garanca
Princess von Werdenberg……Renée Fleming
Baron Ochs……………….Günther Groissböck
Sophie…………………..Erin Morley
Faninal………………….Markus Brück
Annina…………………..Helene Schneiderman
Valzacchi………………..Alan Oke
Italian Singer……………Matthew Polenzani
Marianne…………………Susan Neves
Mahomet………………….Billy Conahan
Princess’ Major-domo………Scott Scully
Lackey…………………..Marco Jordão
Lackey…………………..Ross Benoliel
Lackey…………………..Daniel Clark Smith
Lackey…………………..Edward Hanlon
Orphan…………………..Maria D’Amato
Orphan…………………..Christina Thomson Anderson
Orphan…………………..Rosalie Sullivan
Milliner…………………Anne Nonnemacher
Animal Vendor…………….Dustin Lucas
Hairdresser………………Tom Watson
Notary…………………..James Courtney
Leopold………………….Patrick Stoffer
Faninal’s Major-domo………Mark Schowalter
Innkeeper………………..Tony Stevenson
Waiter…………………..Brian Frutiger
Waiter…………………..Bradley Garvin
Waiter…………………..Brian Kontes
Waiter…………………..Christopher Job
Police Commissioner……….Scott Conner
Widow……………………Sidney Fortner
Doctor…………………..Frank Colardo

Conductor………………..Sebastian Weigle

Production……………….Robert Carsen
Set Designer……………..Paul Steinberg
Costume Designer………….Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer…………Robert Carsen
Lighting Designer…………Peter Van Praet
Choreographer…………….Philippe Giraudeau