[Risë Stevens (Octavian) with Lotte Lehmann (Marschallin) in (or rather: after) Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier”, New York/MET 1939. – Photo Credit: MET/Met Archives]
Stevens, who passed away yesterday at age 99, debuted her Octavian at the MET in 1938.
I know she is much more known for her Carmen (unquestioned MET reign over hte part throughout the entire 40s and most of the 50s) and for her TV appearances, but to me, she’ll always be the epitome of 1940s dashing in a silver waistcoat.
The first I ever knew of Stevens, at some point in the early 90s, was a photo of her Octavian – not the one above, a later one in the 2nd act garb – and I was instantly drawn to the way she embued young Rofrano with effortless elegance: a female masculinity that at first sight, didn’t tiptoe the 1950s gender lines, but that, at a second look, was as bold in its elegance as it was graceful.
Another great mezzo legacy life has come to a close, but I predict that there will be many more bumbling teenage opera dykes, who don’t even know yet that they’ll grow up to be opera dykes, but they will stumble over a second act Octavian portrait of Stevens, somewhere in some old tome in the musc section of the municipal library. And there will be a little shift, something clicking into place, almost too smooth to be noticed, but it will echo in all the Octavians they will ever see and hear. And whenever, in latter years and probably consciously, they will come upon other photos of Stevens, they’ll smile a fond smile and remember that first image of a silver waistcoat and a perfectly coiffed white gentleman’s wig.