Saturday, January 9, 2010

Der Rosenkavelier at the Met, NYC

This trip to the Met exceeded all expectations that were set by my last visit in November.  The Zeffirelli staging of Turandot was what got us back to NYC so quickly, but we couldn't have anticipated the greatness of what we saw this afternoon.  Der Rosenkavalier was a true tour de force for the opera company and is probably the best all around stage production I have ever seen.  The cast included some real all-stars: Renée Fleming played the Marschallin and Susan Graham played Octavian.  Bass-Baritone Kristinn Sigmundsson's Baron von Ochs was also pretty fantastic.  He made a terrific villain.  I overheard the couple behind us say, "It feels like being in a theme park ride!" when they returned to their seats after the first intermission.  If you asked me, it was better!

Of course, The Met is beautiful just to be in without there being an amazing opera going on at the same time. Luxury is everywhere.  There are beautiful plush fabrics covering everything, and the color red everywhere accented by metallic gold makes you feel exceedingly warm and luxurious at the same time.  There are two huge Marc Chagall murals that flank the main lobby, and if that's not enough to impress you, you'll be dazzled by the collection of star-burst Lobmeyr chandeliers that light the entrance as well as the performance space.  According to the New York Times, all 49,000 of the original crystals were completely replaced with new Swarowski ones starting in 2008 as part of a cleaning and restoration project in honor of The Met's 125th season.  The results are eye-popping.

Renée Fleming was every bit as charming, elegant, commanding, and beautiful as I expected her to be on stage.  She sang her role as the Marschallin with such sensitivity and subtlety.  Her warm tone was perfect for Strauss's rich score and the extreme demands of the role of the Marschallin.  It was a pleasure to finally hear her live.  She truly lives up to her reputation and then some. Graham's Octavian, however, may have stolen the show, in my opinion.  Every note she sang was gold and her stage presence is stunning.  She demonstrated a formidable ability to project evenly throughout the large tessatura covered by the role of Octavian.  The ease with which she sang her high notes was matched with a rich lower extension without any audible breaks in between.  The "Presentation of the Rose" scene at the beginning of act two sung by Graham and Christine Schäffer caused Dan and I to tear up, and the final trio with Fleming, Graham, and Schäffer was an example of musical nirvana that I can only hope I will again be a part of in the future.

Richard Strauss's score is deceptively difficult.  It's written for a rather large orchestra that includes a full compliment of brass and percussion.  The Met Orchestra managed to play sensitively and only overpowered the singers on stage in a very few instances.  The woodwind players and principal strings of the Met deserve special recognition for their virtuoso playing and beautiful ability to control their instruments in extreme registers.  I must also mention how exquisitely Elaine Douvas, principal oboe, played her part in this afternoon's performance.  Der Rosenkavalier at times seems like an oboe concerto and every note was played her with finesse and with a rich and resonant tone.  Color me tickled pink and green with envy!

I am happy to report that my irrational fear of being bored was unrealized. Everyone you talk to about Rosenkavalier seems to mention how long it is - about 4 1/2 hours!  It's not an overstatement to say that I didn't lose interest once from start to finish.  The acting, sets, costumes, and musicianship were enough to keep me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  I especially liked that the singers took every opportunity to create humorous moments on the stage to keep the mood light.  Having some laughs here and there made the many poignant moments in the plot that much more touching. It also didn't hurt that Dan also splurged on some pretty wonderful box seats that were practically on the stage for a very sweet Christmas gift to me this year.

Dan and I will return to the Met in March to see La Bohéme, probably my very favorite opera of all time.  It's another Zeffirelli production, so I'm certain it will be amazing, but I fear that I am spoiled on opera forever after this afternoon.  It was a rare chance to see a near perfect live performance that I will treasure in the years to come.

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