Der R in San Diego

I have been hesitant to write a post about this for a couple of reasons, one being that i almost have no time now, but the more important one really is that I dislike writing negatively about something. If it moves me, i’m motivated to write up. If not, i let it be swept under the carpet. But i finally put this up here to emphasize what in my opinion is a good performance of Der Rosenkavalier and what particularly got me into this opera in the first place. Last year, just before putting in the first cd/dvd order in 7+ years, I chanced on this clip on youtube:

I had never heard of the opera or Richard Strauss, but that first look by Frau K was enough to get me to put the DVD immediately into the basket. This, to me, is an excellent version. The singers are well beyond superb. From the first note, i became a Nina Stemme’s fan. Sophie is sung well and more importantly well portrayed by Frau Hartelius: a young girl who is subtle and reserved but at the same time courageous and determined. And I’m even more convinced that Frau K is an excellent actress. As an example, just the simple thing she did with just a head shake (that moved her hair swiftly) to signal the italians to meet Oktavian outside to form the new business associates was amazing (just after telling Sophie to remain patient and she will hear again from Oktavian soon). And that look from the clip just after inhaling the scent of the rose? i melt. (it remains the only convincing one for me amongst the many many clips i’ve seen on youtube).

So, with that in mind, and with the original idea of seeing Frau Harteros as the Marschallin, I got my ticket for the San Diego production. I’m pretty open to new singers. I was quite looking forward to hearing Patrizia Ciofi live. I was most worried about the orchestra drowning out all singers and Twyla Robinson as the replacement for the Marschallin.

As it turned out, the conductor was amazingly accomodating. I’m highly highly impressed with his support for the singers (except perhaps for Oktavian, more later). Since the pre-show talk emphasized the waltz as a hint that “someone is lying to someone else”, the conductor did go much much out of his way it seems to make sure we all heard the various waltzes in the score. In the end, I still find it pleasant and still impressed with the orchestra.

As for Twyla Robinson, she was the most convincing singer of the night for me. Her voice does not have the special characteristic like Harteros or Ciofi. In the Trio, you wouldn’t realize she’s singing until Oktavian and Sophie stopped. It’s not because her voice got downed out. It just didn’t quite have a distinguishable tone in a crowd. She sang safe, secured, and most importantly portrayed the mood of the Marschallin VERY well. I’m a bit curious if they actually cut some of the monologue toward the end of Act I because it seems like time flew by quickly when she was in the mood lamenting about her predictable future. That is to say I feel very well the Marschallin’s emotion. I enjoyed her performance a lot.

Oktavian: it’s difficult for me to say much because we hardly heard Anke Vondung! It doesn’t matter where one sits it seems, her voice is not big enough for the gigantic hall there. When she sang alone, we might have made it out. With a couple of accompanied instruments, the voice was nearly drowned out. That’s too bad. It seems her best moment was when she played Mariandel. My friend who booked the ticket per my recommendation made several valid points in voicing his desire for a better performance: There’s not enough acting at times (e.g., when Oktavian was supposed to “talk” to the Italians but in reality just stood at 1 corner of the stage) and over acting at others (over-jumping due to over-groping by Ochs). This Oktavian also didn’t make sense for friend because of the decision to pick Sophie over the Marschallin.

I was a big fan of Ms Ciofi as Giulietta in Liege. I am not quite a fan of her characterization of Sophie though. Friend said (and I agreed with him): this Sophie appears like a spoiled brat. It makes no sense that this Oktavian would pick her over the Marschallin. She’s more a “jumpy” type, happy to bounce up and down and flirting at times (my vocabulary is failing here at this late hours…) Singing-wise, one got a feeling she was singing italian instead of german. The phrasing was also a bit “strange”, with pauses at places that seem to break the music in an odd way for the ears. Or at least to my ears, and I’ve heard many records of Der R in the last year and a half.

Staging: are we americans not able to handle anything non ultra traditional?? Should we be sooo proud to stage the “exact” way Richard Strauss had the room decorated in the first ever performance? The bedroom alone (in Act I) would have KILLED all my excitement for the lady if I were Oktavian :-D. Actually I only have complaints about that bedroom, looked sooo un-enticing. The rest, I didn’t care much for. It was more the over-actings that distracted me. It’s as if the director was afraid Americans can’t get a joke or are bored to death and constantly need a laugh. Ochs was trying very often to grab Mariandel while she more often than I would like over-jumped to illustrated her detest for such acts.

Anyhow, I got out of the performance feeling lacking and the urge to retouch my home-base. and my home-base, in reversed order ( i reallly realy like the final duet), are

(next up, whenever i have time, would be the last i capuleti which moved me to near tears…)