Der Rosenkavalier @ Opernhaus Zürich

was a night of absolutely exceptional singing and acting from everyone. Below is curtain call. That’s the loudest i can scream, wish i can be more brave and stand up and scream and stomp… i stopped video to resume clapping. will revisit for updating content. just simply amazing. ideally i’d prefer to remain seated for 10 min after to reflect… but everyone seemed to rush out so had to put on shoes and ran off.. many many thanks to Purity for the incredible tickets. I and huge VK fan truly enjoyed the show, with very very nice mid/post discussion. sound was just perfectly balanced. view was perfect (except for a big head in front 🙂 ).

Edit [20-jul-2013]


Back, after 1 week stalling .. woke up today at 1500h and thought wow i slept A LOT, then realized phone is still in euro-time :-D. been spending my week looking at Bahamas and Cuba as well as the Aleutian islands. Them tiny islands, if you don’t get  right, ocean circulation goes berserk! But back to Der R, think i can pin point to several key components which made this performance so beautiful, starting with the one that said it all (“Tender Octavian”, stealing from Eyes, btw, it came from this collection). Right. Fantastic seats at level with singers and without a view of the orchestra, which resulted in perfect sound balance. Having been to left corner, right corner, up above, far away balcony, i’d say this seat offers the most complete view at finest details in term of overall visual and sound balance but yet at a safe distance for my imagination to fire on all cylinders ;-). So, onto imagination.

screencapIt seems the singers feed off significantly from the crowd energy, everyone was more alert, active, full of life, comme Pinocchio stepping out of the book into real life. Sophie much more receptive to Octavian’s glances and movements, and thus their chemistry instantly worked! During the moment of spilling out their inner thoughts, i’ve now seen 3 versions, all of which brought quite an insight into how these two chemistry unfolded. First night, Octavian extended hand out slightly, Sophie left hers on the dress, so no connection… which somehow made that first night all quite a rush and an impression it was more Octavian’s neurons that shoot up like run-away fireworks but not quite Sophie’s. 2nd night, Sophie left her hand out, to which Octavian tenderly grabbed (~ dvd’s version)… so it was more mutual.. yet still something was missing… 3rd night, Sophie had her hand in, Octavian sent hers (his) out probing… no hand, withdrew.. then Sophie sent hers out, Octavian tried 2nd time, contact made, Sophie _quickly_ withdrew hers (!), Octavian’s hand retreated… to the end of inner thought they spilled, Sophie extended her hand second time, reaching all the way across and decisively grabbed hold of Octavian! quite charming i have to say. works very well into the setting.. and gives a hint she’s a lot more than just the timid shying away avoiding eye contact type seen in previous 2 editions… and we all know how much this Octavian loves to oblige…

screencap2i was mentally getting ready for the sad ending and almost forgot about the comedy part, until VK showed up in that lovely dress and adddddorable crescent-moon bando… may be i should look for one. She was having an absolute ball with this scene, playing a little with the audience almost, everyone loved it. Alfred Muff, i really enjoyed both his acting and singing. VERY believable in all performances, never over the top. Both he and VK have lots of singing and acting in all 3 acts and their chemistry is just fantastic to watch.

So, onto the singing… this opera is pretty intensive i’d say… one has to be relaxed, settled, ready for 4 hours of blasting… the music is quite loud, lots of ups and downs, HORNS and DRUMS!! i really wonder why Strauss put many horns and drums parallel with a single human voice. Am curious how rewarding it is to sing this (since i know nothing about voice), but to have brief moments of voice featuring surrounded by almost all out blasting passing the orchestra 80% of time can be super duper tiring. And they did an amazing job of getting their voice heard along with all the movings and acting. So, the voice featuring bit. Sophie during the rose presentation: Rachel Harnisch has a very nice warm voice. I love her phrasing the best in this last performance. You know this super duper high note right after she received the rose? Not sure how it’s supposed to be done, but i really love it when it arrives just a bit slow and rising up, like cloud touching the foot of the mountain and ascending.. in some occasions, it’s attacked a bit too harsh (think eagles flying in crashing landing) and didn’t sound as beautiful to my ears (i remember this was somewhat the version Patrizia Ciofi gave in san diego…). Anyhow, the ascent then set up the entire orchestra, music, mood, transcending, breathtaking. Then the duet with (optional) hand exchange as detailed above. Both characters have together another duet in this act, just after Octavian promised to help her as long as she promised to remain who she is… I tried hard to listen to them but the orchestra is realllly loud, whhhhyyy??? and is it really a fault of the orchestra or just that there’re way too many instruments? No clue.

matlabcoolThe Feldmarschallin: She’s singing in the first and last act. The last act, i really love Nina Stemme’s singing. waaay heart breaking. just before the trio is of course the re-intro of the dark tune (oboe), then the voice took over and made an ascent, absolutely goose-bump inducing. So much bitterness as well, woooahhh (could also be my imagination :-)). but backtracking to the first act, i know why i don’t connect with her monologue: it always sounded a bit cool and collected. If i don’t know what the setting is, i wouldn’t know she’s in such a mood. This is just the  consistency (defn: [n] degree of density, firmness, or viscosity) of the tone. Here, i found an image from a google search of matlab “cool” colormap. That oval, the mood and tone are constrained within that colorscale instead of covering the full rainbow of emotion. I guess it works for others who have more life experience but within my limited well, that spectrum doesn’t quite cover my imagination of the emotional expression of the mood. So there you have it :-).

So, onto the last duet. one shed tears internally.  light orchestra, soft singing, heavenly voice and melody, bitter-sweet to such an emotional ride, no happy ending (in my mind…), woaaaahh.  And with curtain call, it’s also a wrap to VK’s Octavian.   Can i now put together a small list of things i’d like to hear her live in? Carmen, Azucena, Sesto (no hope, woooah), Marguerite, anything Händel/baroque… still quite hung up on Wagner and Strauss…


still in a daze

So, i still a bit in a daze with rather very strange feeling after last night performance with accidental seats VERY close to the action and almost 10m from VK… But before that, some acrobatic running + hopping through 1 bus, 2 trains, 1 tram, and yet more running through what seems like the entire country of Switzerland, I made it to the opernhaus 10 min late, frantically running to the first person I saw for help on where to run next…
up the red stair all the way to the top
all the way to the top? (my tix said “Rang 1” = not top)
yes, all the way to the top
up i skipped across the red carpet… got sent down to check small bag in… then more running back up…
On a “thermal” video screen, we see “images” of VK waiving the stick singing… my improvised german-understanding is quite improved now, lots of hand gesture, but the lady assured me I’d get let in as soon as the singing stops… then quickly door opened, i jumped in… to the royal box!! directly above Octavian and the Marschallin… the only thing to remind me it wasn’t a dream was the constant dripping of sweat.. i LOVE love love these seats, waaay above the orchestra, almost directly above the singers, close enough to process their wonderful nuances and facial expressions, far enough to still have an overall impression. Was soo hoping I could somehow disappear so the lady wouldn’t kick me out at intermission.. but opened the door she did: “now you go back to your seat”. Was quite crying on the inside coz it was suuuuch a perfect spot to hear and view Frau K in action … anyhow, i sat myself on the Zürich Opernhaus steps to reflect on what had just happened.. when a charming young lady came along with her friend, huge VK fan in Zürich… recognizing me as the blogger from Boston! And of course i conveniently cried quite loudly about my seating situation and got invited to their box, which was directly across from the royal box and 1 level lower, 10m away from VK to be precise, with orchestra BOOOOMING on the right ear. I stood the rest of the time absorbing the singing and flow of action… all the while still feeling in a daze. And i’ve partially figured out why:

From way above or far in the distance, the illusion is there, I see Octavian and the Marschallin. In spot 10m away, I see Vesselina Kasarova and Nina Stemme. The contrast is so huge the mind can no longer process this is an opera… but rather singers one has followed all these times now performing the act… still a bit confused but for sure i didn’t really see Octavian last night :-). This is rather self revealing and I’ve now realized in all the operas I’ve been to, I’ve mainly seen the characters and plots unfolding, not so much the actual singers doing the part!

Anyhow, since i was WIIIIDE awake with BIIIG eyes and ears last night, let’s talk a bit about the singing :-). that orchestra is LOUUUD, VERY LOUD, i often had to hide behind the small wall in the box to keep ears from ringing.. So most of the times, the singers were really blasting their lungs out to make it pass orchestra. For this particular opera, sitting too close is not quite rewarding, had myself a splitting headache by evening end. There were only few times when orchestra came to almost a stand still with only solo violin or oboes accompanying.. One of those rare occasions is the Marschallin’s monologue, as heard from my original royal box. This is now the 4th time I’ve put a lot of attention into hearing Nina Stemme’s version of the monologue (2x via careful listening of dvd, 2x live).. not sure why that is, but each time i remained unmoved.. in fact the violin moved me more that her singing, i’m not sure why that is. perhaps the mind absorbs sound quite differently for everyone and there are voices that just melt you into a puddle whereas others that don’t ring true for you. As for the rest of the characters in the first Act, there’s not much sustained singing as one could put it. Most of the times it’s within a conversation, expressing oneself… At the end of the first Act though, the singers came out for a quick bow and, thanks to my seat, i could see inside VK and Nina Stemme exchanging a very warm hug, probably an acknowledgement of each other’s great effort in getting the first Act running wonderfully and smoothly.
Onto Act II, there’s much improved chemistry between VK and Rachel Harnisch this time, VK with more time to raise her eyebrows as to why Sophie remained inside the cupboard. At closer distance you can hear all the nuances in her voice during the rose presentation. This time they held hands while singing their inner thoughts.. the kiss is more spontaneous, the exchanges more fluid.. but there’s still something not quite 100% convincing about Sophie.. much of it is very subtle movements i believe, a look in the eyes, a wrap of an arm.. and for this Sophie, it’s still… the best image i can think of is Garanca staring into the distance with Barbara Bonney right in front of her.. But singing-wise, I quite like Harnisch’ warrrm voice, quite different in texture compared to Nina Stemme’s. But as Tove S mentioned in her comment box on my last post, this Sophie doesn’t quite express the same details both in movements/action and in the musical phrasing as Marlin Hartelius’. Being soo closed, it’s also highly interesting to see the “illusion” of an action the audience would see. Last time, i was worried how Baron Ochs was “tossing” Octavian off the table (after VK grabbed the knife and climbed it waving high declaring war with him) and thought she could easily break her ankle or sprain knee.. and i thought the knife was not real… but it’s real!! she’s holding a real knife hopping on tables… though luckily she jumped off it by herself with a big “tossing” gesture from the baron.. still, quite dangerous! Can i mention how i admire her walk in that nice long split jacket? and how i adore the hair? and the sharp chin which emphasizes the full feature so wonderfully..

view from seat

view from seat

Act III: that dress fits her so well, and now up close, i looove that cresent-moon bando! looks particularly great with the split jacket :-). Again, lots and lots of acting until the arrival of the Feldmarschallin. The whole mood change, the dark solo clarinet (or was it oboe? i tend to get these 2 confused…) tune is back.. the Feldmarschallin’s soft touch on Octavian’s face a split second before the trio is soo heart-breaking, woaaahhhh. Time stopped. just magnificent… only managed 1 photograph of curtain call… and i still in a daze..

picture post

I might come back once properly slept and add more content/description but for now just a few photos and curtain call. (edit: i updated the curtain call to one that’s a bit longer.)

Back. So, this post will be mainly about the characterizations. There won’t be much discussion about voice coz i was toooo sleepy to be in the right mind for hearing properly.. Much of this will be my impression of how the characters fit together, with some comparison to the dvd… mainly because we have all seen the dvd. It’s not so much about what is there then and not now.. but rather how the chemistry develops/differs, somewhat along the line of same character Sesto but 2 very different realizations between Zürich 2005 and Salzburg 2003…


Marie Theres’! Octavian!
Mein Schatz! Mein Bub’!

First Act: On first note, i remember thinking the orchestra is a bit too loud, masking out Kasarova’s voice. This Octavian is truly a very young boy with not yet much experience in life. He’s in love with the Marschallin and she’s his, that is the world. Since we have the same two singers, one would think the chemistry would develop similar to their first round. But i think 10 years is a long time and singers change their perspectives (?) The Marschallin remains as she was but this boy is much more clueless, a “didn’t get it” reciever to his lover’s inner/outer thoughts. It wasn’t until he came back in proper clothes during one of the Marschallin’s moods that i got the perfect image to describe him, fitting all the way to the tip of the tail coat.  The image is from the great children book i read growing up (here’s english translation, titled “diary of a cricket”). He’s young, idealistic, full of adrenaline, short in life experience, making snapping decision which in his mind is most fitted without fully thinking of the outcome. In short, a teenage boy. Earworm wrote about this in her review of the dvd, but i didn’t really see this  boy fully until the performance last night. This, i think, is a compliment to Kasarova’s acting skill. And I had mentioned before too that in this opera (from the dvd), i was most drawn to her acting…

The rest of the act, I quite like Alfred Muff’s voice and characterization. Nothing overdone, just an annoying stiff full of himself while degrading women with his passing comments. This is from the libretto and his phrasing delivers that. In many other performances, i think this characters tend to be depicted in rather over the top manner to make him unlikeable. Here (and as well in the dvd), i really like this characterization, just as is, already what’s coming out of this mouth (including music, phrasing) is telling enough. As for the Marschallin, let’s wait until next round (hoping that i would get in in time…) for me to get more impression…

Onto Act II: (after i fell asleep in the waiting area during intermission)
I quite like Rachel Harnisch (Sophie)’s voice, but am unsure about the phrasing… And related to that the whole rose presentation scene, which you know i was wide awake for 😉 . The whole thing seems quite a rush, from the moment Sophie could barely ran into the cupboard without tripping, to Octavian almost running in and barely getting all phrasing through for the rose delivering speech, to Sophie opening the door walking right out passing Octavian, to them no longer holding hands during their inner-thought spilling session, to finally when the eyes met… Not sure what the missing ingredient was but there was not quite the spark here. My impression is that the tempo is too fast (!, the whole show was 3hr40min excluding 2 pauses) . But cutting into tempo to make time during certain (very important) parts can be damaging i argue… Anyhow, so, they sort of met, not sure what Sophie saw, but Octavian totally reminded me of my teenage and early 20s years, the sort of hopelessly falling instantly in love with any girl who “might have made” an eye connection, of freely interpreting and now dedicating life to protect her… 😉 . I’m sure the next round i see her she would do something different, but at least the version yesterday was just that boy (girl). The fact that their chemistry didn’t quite spark as was in the dvd, on top of the rushing tempo, might even work here into the story. The whole mess, after all, is unfolding very quickly (in the kitchen). Octavian is both waving knife declaring war and crawling hiding behind kitchen table while searching for Sophie’s eyes for connection and words of encouragement… Finally, Octavian went out to give some order behind the see-through glass, and yours truly promptly fell asleep until the end of the act.

(at this point, i would have much preferred to sleep through until beginning of Act III, but then got kicked out again coz they changed set…So things improved by the act and I unsure if i progressively was more awake or that musically it was also getting more and more tense… though that didn’t really explain the first Act full of wonderful music… anyhow, onto..)

Act III: girly Octavian hanging out with the baron, quite fun to watch and listen to. I’m sure they were having fun acting and singing here. Frau K should really open a school teaching all how to walk while criss-crossing gender. just magnets for the (my) eyes 😉 . The Marschallin came back, here one can reallly hear well her voice and pain.  Orchestra was much softer.  And another situation to sort out. Octavian is clearly a boy who loves her, but he’s now much more infatuated with the younger Sophie. In his ideal world both should exist somehow, and he’s VERY confused why the Marschallin is telling him to “go over there!”, not even sensing the jealousy and resignation in her tone. He still has very strong feeling for her, as evident by the long stretch of the two holding hands leading up to the finale… and the trio is of course goose-bump inducing and magnificent, followed by the absolutely marvelous duet (and more goosebumps). Octavian smiling happily grabbing Sophie’s hand after the trio.. which is quite different than in the dvd when (s)he smiled more subtly. As the Marschallin collapsed, Octavian no longer kneeled down but remained standing while helping to get her off the floor. You might think i read a bit too much into this, but the knee-bending meter is quite telling on how readily Octavian is in jumping ship… So there you have it, the poor Marschallin went home alone… i could send her my hotel address.




radio alert, nina stemme live now

edit3: think this is the re-listening link.
on radiofrance, concert from Paris:
. .
. . .
11th December Concert will begin at 19:00 hours GMT, 2PM EST.
Stemme sings Grieg, Sibelius, Weill, Wagner et al in Paris
Nina Stemme, soprano, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. program . i think there should be archived for 7-days, you know i gonna re-listen many times.
well, here’s what Nina Stemme was singing, very cool!!

while you probe around radiofrance website for re-ecoute link, check out an interview with Anna Caterina Antonacci, my french is a bit too broken to make out what she thinks of the staging, i can only hear she said she accepted it…