Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The doe

Der Rosenkavalier - Metropolitan Opera, 12/10/2013
Serafin, Sindram, Rose, Morley, Cutler / Gardner

I have said much already about this opera, mostly in 2009's post on the Marschallin and her world, and so I'll leave this brief so I can return to my second long post on Frau (holiday, illness, and two other stupendous productions that I still plan to write about -- along with one not-so-stupendous one -- have forced delay).

Martina Serafin is, if not a pitch-perfect Marschallin (the last bits of the trio showed notable strain), about the ideal one emotionally. She was such a wonderfully expressive and reactive Sieglinde in her spring debut that I feared she might, by temperament, take a similar approach to this character. A foolish worry, it turns out, with the first native Wiener(in) to sing this most Viennese part here since... well, further back than I can pinpoint without digging through the archives. Everything -- strong or subtle -- is both felt and held in balance in Serafin's person and her clearish sound, as it should be. The Marschallin is a comic character by nature, one who seeks -- and finds -- balance after each storm, and with Serafin even eye-rolling and visible tears (among which she does not lose her composure) strengthen rather than detract from that core showing. And her use of the fan...

And so the parts that make a good Rosenkavalier great -- the closes of Acts I and III -- came off beautifully. Only... the show was not otherwise on that level. Full credit to Gardner for not doing a saggy final trio (though he teased it with a loooong lead-in), but for most of the night he seemed to be conducting Frau rather than Rosenkavalier: much attack and energy, but frankly unforgivable sloppiness in ensembles. One does not have to drive Rosenkavalier forward, for the motion is all within its dance rhythms. One must simply and precisely distill them from the mass of notes -- and Gardner's sloppiness does the opposite.

Daniela Sindram, debuting in this run, would be a perfect Octavian -- she has the character, manner, and looks down, and is quite affecting in her portrayal -- except that in the Met's big barn she lacks vocal impact or glamour. (Yes, Susan Graham is again missed.) Too bad. Peter Rose does have enough force to make an impressive overall show as Ochs, but doesn't have the money note at the Act II curtain... ah well. But his interplay with Serafin in Act III is terrific, with him crossing the line/trying her patience a little more on each exchange until she's forced to lower the boom. Eric Cutler was good enough as a somewhat overdirected Italian Singer (the levee scene has often fallen prey to that at the Met), and Hans-Joachim Ketelsen a fun and strong if (on this night) somewhat inconsistent Faninal.

Best besides Serafin (and the ever-authoritative Richard Bernstein as the Commissary) was a late fill-in for this run, Lindemann grad Erin Morley. She, too, lacked some vocal force -- especially in conversation (the high stuff was fine) -- but in character and delivery she was near the standard of 2009's Miah Persson, the modern ideal as Sophie.

Stage direction this time -- Robin Guarino as ever, but with Jonathon Loy and Tomer Zvulun this revival -- was, as I've suggested, a bit overdone for the levee but clearer and better than usual (with a very nice touch of the intriguers dancing off) for Act III. But who the heck cut out the Turks and Croats from Act II!?

*     *     *

After such complaints, what can I say? Mostly that Serafin is likely (though one might argue for Denoke) the best Marschallin here since at least 1990 (Felicity Lott, in the famous Carlos Kleiber revival). One shouldn't miss her light up the show -- and, if one has only seen Fleming et al., clarify the character -- even if that means putting up with Gardner stepping on his not-super-sturdy ensemble cast elsewhere. Last night of the run is Friday.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.