Lyric’s Der Rosenkavalier – Grand Opera at Its Finest
Reviewed by: James Murray
For those who relish Viennese confections the Lyric Opera of Chicago has served up a gorgeous treat in Strauss’ and von Hofmannsthal’s and Der Rosenkavalier. From the sumptuous sets and costumes to the flawless casting and vocal chemistry among the performers Lyric is giving Chicago audiences what they want; one of the most glorious Strauss scores, a beautiful and poignant love story combined with grand sets and costumes, and singers in top-notch form with both the acting and vocal skills to pull it off in a world-class manner.
Under the superb direction of both Martina Weber (who achieves just the right balance of bittersweet pathos and comedic action which never goes over the top) Edward Gardner who leads a magnificent orchestra and captures just the right tempos and pace for the score, and the sumptuous period-perfect sets, costumes and wigs by Thierry Bosquet and Sarah Hatten respectively this Rosenkavalier enchants, entertains and dazzles.
The plot of von Hofmannsthal’s and Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier involves the Marshallian, a married woman in her early thirties who is in the final bloom of her youth, and her passionate love affair with Octavian, her cousin and the Rosenkavalier. As the Act 1 curtain rises they are lying in bed after a passionate evening, angry that the sun is invading the room.
Baron Ochs, a middle-aged, fat and boorish aristocrat without a fortune arrives (flawlessly performed by a brilliant Matthew Rose) interferes their morning when he comes to tell the Marshallian of his engagement to Sophie, a noblewoman whose father is exchanging for a title. Meanwhile Octavian has slipped behind a curtain and comes out dressed as “Mariandel”, his illegitimate sister. Baron Ochs makes a play for her and makes it clear he wants a rendezvous, not realizing she is a man. While getting her hair dressed the Marshallian makes the discovery that the bloom of her youth is gone and she is experiencing the first sign of age on her face; she knows the chapter of her youth has come to an end.
After the Baron leaves, the Marshallian tells Octavian that she instinctively knows he will leave her for another younger woman. Octavian, in an impetuous mood leaves, with the silver rose but no farewell kiss which is her sign that it is over.
Octavian delivers the silver rose to Sophie as a token her betrothal to Baron Ochs (a glorious scene which dazzles) and both fall instantly in love with each other. Baron Ochs arrives to interrupt the tender love scene between Octavian and Sophie and, being the boorish ox that his name translates into, chases Sophie around the room as he paints a carnal picture of their future marriage. Sophie is disgusted and refuses to go through with the arranged marriage.
After Octavian promises to protect Sophie from the impending marriage he leaves and, on is way out bribes Baron Ochs’ servant Annina (a great performance by Megan Marino) to give a note to him with details of an arranged rendezvous with his “sister” Mariandel.
In Act 3, the Baron pursues Mariandel (Octavian) in a hilarious scene that is brilliantly played by both and the trap snaps shut revealing the Baron’s unfaithfulness to Sophie, her father and the Police Commissioner (the very talented Patrick Guetti with a rich bass as smooth as honey). The Marshallian enters magnificently dressed and gives Octavian permission to pursue his true love, Sophie in one of the highlights of the Lyric’s production (this is where we are treated to one of the most beautiful trios in opera, Hab mir’s gelobt). Octavian, the Marshallian and Sophie sing of true love and their voices blend into one in perfect pitch and harmony (it doesn’t get any better than this in opera).The Marshallian has accepted she is no longer young and love is now in her past as she ascends into middle age. Octavian, in a sign of love, respect and gratitude kneels before her and kisses he hand in a last farewell. Mashallian leaves the two young lovers alone and all ends as it should.
In the iconic role of Marshallian, Amanda Majeski is perfection in every way. Not only is the voice outstanding but she possesses the regal bearing of royalty and bring much pathos to the role (the end of Act 1 being especially poignant).
As the Rosenkavalier soprano Sophie Koch is magnificent, with just the right blend of comic playfulness, petulance and impetuous teenager (she has played this role many times and once opposite Renee Fleming).
Christina Landshamer does a fine job with Sophie, possessing a strong vocal and physical chemistry with Koch’s Rosenkavalier.
Rodell Rosel is hilarious as the servant Valzacchi without going to broad. Martin Ganter (Sophie’s father) is perfectly cast as Faninal.
I sincerely hope that the Lyric will continue presenting opera with beautiful, grand design and stop the “Regie Theater” (translated into “Director’s Theatre) they tend to embrace in an effort to present their unique concept of the opera. Audiences respond favorably to paying the costly admission to an opera when they can be dazzled and moved by productions as beautiful and magnificent as this Der Rosenkavalier. Run to see this one!
Der Rosenkavalier runs at the Lyric Opera House through March 13. Please check their schedule for performance dates. Tickets may be purchased at the Lyric’s box office at 312-827-5600 or online at www.lyricopera.org.