[Curtain call: Marten Frank Larsen (Faninal), Daniela Sindram (Octavian), Adam Fischer (baton), Dorothea Röschmann (Marschallin), Chen Reiss (Sophie), Kurt Rydl (Ochs) after Straus’ “Der Rosenkavalier”, Vienna/Staatsoper 2016]
Another night, another set of impressions.
Recently, over the two different takes of the Brussels “Mitridate”, we talked about how enriching it is to be able to compare two nights of a single run to get a better feel of a production or a cast. These two nights of the old Schenk Vienna “Rosenkavalier” (it premiered in 1968) proved just the same.
First of all, the orchestra was a lot clearer and more polished (still not without some larmoyance, but I guess if you are the Philharmoniker playing “Rosenkavalier” in Vienna, well…), as if by night 3 of this mini run, everyone remembered what it was about. Or perhaps it was because it was the final night for one of their concertmasters who got a warm send-off during curtains that were cut short for that purpose.
I still wasn’t entirely sold, but cues were much more precise. The prelude was driven and energetic and very evocative, with just enough string swoon in the final part (though really, there are glissandi, and then there are Vienna glissandi), Röschmann got organic space to breathe towards the end of Act One, the Beisl offered more clearly-outlined colors.
Last night, I was in the parquet standing room, as opposed to seated in the back row of the balcony like on Monday, which may account for some differences, but the seating should not change the sound that drastically. Still, I was surprised e.g by Thomas Eberwein’s Valzacchi, who on Monday barely carried up to the balcony, and who at parquet level was well audible and gave a very enjoyable performance. The Marianne Leitmetzerin of Regine Hangler sounded supple and downright creamy at times, and Herwig Percoraro’s innkeeper was, even if not smooth in color, a clear presence throughout the Third Act.
Kurt Rydl’s Ochs was not free of self-indulgent shticks, but at this stage of his career, he should be commended for covering at short notice and not be held to vocal demands of 20 or 30 years ago. His performance clearly worked for the audience, and his best moments are perhaps truly in the Beisl, where it is not about vocal power but knowledge of the part to command comic timing. And who could begrudge a shtick trick if it makes you chuckle?
I also enjoyed Chen Reiss’ Sophie more last night (although usually when Sophie is around, so is Octavian, and we all know my white shirt priorities) – the very beginning was, again, somewhat off: a light flutter in the voice, no consistent control over the idiomatic Sophie ‘gleam’. I kept searching for her focus, her color, as when struggling to get my camera to give me a clear image. Reiss has very good moments, especially when the line suits her range and vowel production: then it her tone is silvery and projects well. But one does get the impression that the score, and not the singer, is calling the shots. Her acting is a bit standardized, but picks up drive throughout the Second Act and has energy (I imagine if someone actually tailored a Sophie to her, she would be better still).
I’ve seen Dorothea Röschmann get some flak for her Marschallin these past nights, also in overhearing comments in the intermissions, but I think that is to do with expectations depending on other portrayals. If you want a very Viennese Marschallin, elegant and subtle and understated and always with a bit of a distancing ironic smile: no, Röschmann ist not that.
But is that a bad thing?
If you come in wishing for Schwarzkopf, don’t blame Röschmann for not being Schwarzkopf. That is not her fault. Actually, there was just one moment musically that I found jarring, at the very end of the trio (just a bit after the climax): that phrase with the top b” on “wie halt die Männer das Glücklichsein verstehn” veers out like a truck stuck in a curve on a street too narrow, and one gets the impression that she could not tie it down even if she wanted to, and it upends the balance of the trio in its final bars. But that does not prevent me from appreciating her take on the Marschallin overall and I specifically enjoy the absence of that gentle irony that so many singers bring to the part and that always keeps the Marschallin somewhat aloof.
I love this Marschallin for not being aloof, for letting things and people still come close to her. In the beginning, there is no borderline-patronizing indulgent smile when Octavian struggles to find words for the past night: she listens with attentiveness and seriousness and gives the impression that she really is taken with Octavian
(kind of hard not to be, with this Octavian) and that what has happened between them resonates with her, too.
Something similar happens during the Léver, when Röschmann plays the Marschallin as listening to the singer with rapt attention, honestly moved by his song: no elegant distance of regal poise.
When Röschmann sings “Quinquin”, it is, with one exception, never uniform in color. The two “i/e” sounds are always two different ones, and they also differ between the different takes on the word. At the first “Quinquin”, in the breakfast scene, I thought “..what?! “, but already the one seated on the bed later, where she talks about not having read Ochs’ letter because she was in the coach with “Quinquin” and had better things to do, is, with all the openness of the vowels, a moment that is rich with sensuous memory and it makes you think, “Marie-Theres’, you are such a fox.”
The less uniform phrasing does, on the other hand, make words jump out at you, and has them full of meaning you don’t usually give much thought to: the “sie ist ja hübsch genug” to Sophie is borderline derisive, lined with acute, jealous hurt.
The memory of her younger self, who is “in the Ehstand kommandiert worden” evokes in the sharp “k” of “kommandiert”, and in a more pressed “i”, a past that has not yet been superated: you see young Marie-Theres’ being bullied in into her marriage against her will, and it is still a source of pain for her.
Also, the Uncle Greifenklau, who is “alt und gelähmt”: usually a phrase in passing, but here, in a paler “ä” that seems to drag on, you are uncomfortably reminded of what it actually means to be called “lame”: without control of one’s limbs, unable to move.
The First Act was, also thanks to Röschmann, the strongest part again last night, and ends with her seated at the table not in gentle melancholy, but with heaving breaths, fighting tears.
The other reason for one of the best First Acts (and likely the best first scene) I’ve ever seen of any “Rosenkavalier” is Daniela Sindram.
There is not much I can add to Monday’s review regarding her, but one small phrase: Until last night, I would have said that von Otter is my forever Octavian (we all have that one performance we love most dearly and which moves us the most), and I do not want to commit treason against von Otter, but…
But, dear God, Sindram.
She is perfect.
The two of them are not that different in their portrayal of elegant, sensitive masculinity, and in their unpretentious approach to it. Yet Sindram has that slightly broader stance. That slighty more effortless command of masculinity. That extra bit of warmth that recalls Octavian Rofrano’s Italian heritage (“wälischer Filou”, Ochs calls him. And I can see Röschmann’s Marschallin snickering at that as if to say, “You don’t know the half of it.”).
Some people simply seem made for certain parts. And while I am comfortably certain that Sindram is a very attractive woman offstage with her jaw line and her cut profile and the line of her shoulders, those are all elements that, in a trouser role stage context, get to shine as signifiers of différance that give her an extra convincing edge.
From my vantage point in the parquet standing room last night – and I had a luxury spot in the first row, in direct line of sight of the stage – Sindram’s vocal performance was consistent with Monday night’s, although it has to be something about the acoustics on the back balcony that nixes things, because the spectrum of colors in her “a” sounds transported better yesterday.
In the entire night, I counted perhaps a handful of phrases where the voice did not immediately respond or did not open fully. The rest was All. There. Throughout. She really owns the part at this point.
My little 17-year-olds from Monday night would likely have squealed and shrieked at the acting energy throughout the First Act, which had even more drive and ease than on Monday: the singers clearly had warmed up to each other, and were perhaps also fueled by the knowledge that this night was the last show of the run. The Marschallin pulling Octavian back down to her – I singled out that moment in Monday’s review – actually drew chuckles from the audience for her deftness, but also Octavian was even more committed.
I commend them both for the complete lack of embarrassment in their portrayal of mutual attraction. Of course queer women look very intently at that first scene (not for nothing it has been a lesbian shorthand for decades), and we react strongly to any sign of embarrassment, or discomfort, or singers performing their own straightness while they are supposed to perform straight characters that are attracted to each other.
I said above that last night was the best take of the first scene I have ever seen (and like any good opera dyke, I have seen many of them). You can quote me on that.
It simply made sense. Because if you think about it, if you think back (in my case it is ‘thinking back’. You may be much younger than I am, or simply not leaning that way) to those first nights spend with someone else, at an age where your first thought in the morning after a night of little sleep and much action is not your back, but no thought at all because you are stuck in that glorious hormone-induced haze of attraction: What do you do? What does your body do?
It keeps drifting back to that someone, unwilling to let go, searching for contact at every possible moment.
And Sindram really nailed that sensation for me.
It also nicely interacted with her phrasing – and I had not thought about it that way before, but it made a blinding amount of sense last night – e.g. at the moment where Octavian, at a loss for words, stammers “Du! – Du! – Du!” and it often sounds like three disjointed attempts, a struggle to find words: Octavian at a loss (and that is a valid interpretation, I think). Then he gives up and starts pondering “Was heißt das, Du?”
Sindram’s Octavian, supported by the orchestral take of Fischer, takes the triple “Du” as an ascending, purposeful line (and I think it is actually composed that way, if you listen to it), and replaces an imagined fourth “Du!” with a kiss. Because whom does he address, and who does he speak of? The person he is attracted to, and that person is right there.
As a result, the following “Was heißt das, Du?” does not come from a place of boyish, insecure confusion, but from a somewhat more confident place of joyful wonder.
The only critique I have would be that this Octavian is perhaps too dreamy to be real. thadieu mentioned to me a few days ago, in a Greek Soprano Context, the old question posed to Kasarova regarding her trouser roles, about whether she would portray men that sensitive and alluring around women to educate men on their behavior. (so, yes, perhaps this Octavian is too good to be true, with barely any brattiness or disregard (both things that I find poignant e.g. in Fassbaender’s take), but really, should I complain about that?)
(Oh, and in the Beisl sequence, I kept thinking about physical cueing because I got the impression of a woman putting on the exaggerated behavioral patterns of a caricature woman (Mariandel), and less the impression of a young man transporting (and, at times, failing to transport) those patterns: sometimes, I did not see Octavian behind Mariandel, and I would be curious as to what Sindram’s take on his physicality is here.)
Due to my first row spot, the Presentation of the Rose was something else – it still could have used some more power and some more soaring from the pit, but I cannot really tell you that much about the orchestra at that point because Octavian walked up those stairs, like a prince from a deck of cards come to life, and held out the rose in my direct line of sight, so just passmethesmellingsaltsplease.
A dear friend who is forty years my senior once talked with me about swooning over people or performances, and I said to her – I was in my mid-twenties then – that at her age, at least that undignified swooning would be a thing of the past. And she looked at me and smiled very softly and said, “Oh Anik, that never stops.”
As with most things, she was right. Though she forgot to mention that in addition, one apparently stops being embarrassed by it. My next coherent thought last night – when thinking capacity returned somewhere over “Mit ihren Augen voll Tränen”, which was one of Reiss’ best moments of the evening – was “Thank you, deities or universe, that I can still be moved like this.”