R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier
Saturday, May 20, 2017, 12:30 pm
Composer: Richard Strauss
Librettist: Hugo von Hofmannstal
Sung In German
Opera Legend Renée Fleming's Last Met Performance But She Isn’t Ready For Retirement
Fleming’s performance as the Marschallin in the Metropolitan Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier is only a prelude to upcoming recitals, concerts, and new work—a sign that the singer won’t be leaving the limelight any time soon.
Renée Fleming would like her devotees everywhere to know that the reports of her retirement have been greatly exaggerated. “The rumor has taken on a life of its own,” reflects the lyric soprano, who in her illustrious, itinerant career has sung everywhere from Buckingham Palace’s balcony for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to New Jersey’s Meadowlands for Super Bowl XLVIII—and has, along the way, accumulated a cornucopia of prestigious awards, from the National Medal of Arts to a Légion d’Honneur
The polyglot performer will in fact “continue to sing full-time,” she says, but will be cycling out of her repertoire of stage roles to concentrate on recitals and concerts, and to explore new work. “Everything is about timing,” she says. “I have had a wonderful time onstage.” Though Fleming’s creamy voice hasn’t grown heavier or darker, she feels that, at 58, she is probably too mature for her signature characters, “except maybe the Marschallin,” heroine of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. “But I have done her so often!”
Even so, she is giving the frisky, aristocratic Marschallin one more magnificent shot. Debuting at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House this month, the opulent new production of Der Rosenkavalier, directed by Robert Carsen, premiered in London last December to sellout crowds. “It’s risqué, sexual,” Fleming says. Carsen, who has moved the action to 1911 Vienna, deftly “straddles the line between audience appreciation and critical acclaim,” Fleming notes.
But Der Rosenkavalier is only one of many strings currently embellishing the diva’s bow. She has just recorded Julianne Moore’s singing voice for the upcoming drama Bel Canto. “Julianne sat 10 feet in front of me in the studio,” she recalls, where the actress scrutinized Fleming’s every movement so that the lip-synching in the film would be accurate. The luminous mother of two daughters is also the first creative consultant to Chicago’s Lyric Opera and artistic adviser-at-large (along with Yo-Yo Ma and Q-Tip) to the Kennedy Center, where she is helping to spearhead a multi-disciplinary initiative to examine the ameliorative effects of music on the brain. One of Fleming’s longtime missions has been to expand opera’s demographics through such democratizing channels as the Met’s Live in HD transmissions (“the best thing to happen to opera since supertitles”), her unconventional CDs, and a live-streaming arts platform called nRapt, to be launched this year. Yet, with all these escalating obligations, her chief priority remains—emphatically—“touring nonstop indefinitely.”
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Marschallin: Renée Fleming
Octavian: Elīna Garanča
Sophie: Erin Morley
A Singer: Matthew Polenzani
Faninal: Marcus Brück
Baron Ochs: Günther Groissböck
The dream cast of Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Elīna Garanča as Octavian star in Strauss’s grandest opera. In his new production, Robert Carsen, the director behind the Met’s recent Falstaff, places the action at the end of the Habsburg Empire, underscoring the opera’s subtext of class and conflict against a rich backdrop of gilt and red damask, in a staging that also stars Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs. Sebastian Weigle conducts the sparklingly perfect score.
Premiere: Court Opera, Dresden, 1911. Set in an idealized Vienna of the past, Strauss’s most popular opera concerns a wise woman of the world who is involved with a much younger lover but ultimately forced to accept the laws of time, giving him up to a pretty young heiress. Hofmannsthal’s fascinating libretto deftly combines comedy, dreamy nostalgic fantasy, genuine human drama, and light but striking touches of philosophy and social commentary. Strauss’s magnificent score, likewise, works on several levels, combining the refinement of Mozart with the epic grandeur of Wagner.
The opera is originally set in Vienna in the 1740s. Genuine historical references are merged with fictitious inventions (like the “noble custom” of the presentation of the silver rose to a fiancée, which never actually existed) and anachronisms (like the Viennese Waltz, which did not yet exist at that time). It’s a mixture that creates a seductive mythical landscape, a ceremonious and impossibly beautiful Vienna-that-never-was. The Met’s new production moves the setting to the last years of the Habsburg Empire.
Vienna, during the last years of the Habsburg Empire. The Marschallin, Princess von Werdenberg, has spent the night with her young lover, Octavian, Count Rofrano. He hides when a page brings breakfast, then again when loud voices are heard in the antechamber. The unexpected visitor is the Marschallin’s country cousin, Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. Bursting into the room, he brags about his amorous conquests and his upcoming marriage to Sophie von Faninal, the young daughter of a wealthy bourgeois. When he asks the Marschallin for advice as to which cavalier could present Sophie with the traditional silver engagement rose, she suggests Octavian—who suddenly, to avoid discovery, emerges from his hiding place disguised as a chambermaid. The baron instantly starts to make advances towards “Mariandel,” who quickly makes her escape as the room fills with the daily crowd of petitioners and salespeople. Among them is a singer, whose aria is cut short by Ochs’s wrangling with a lawyer over Sophie’s dowry. The Baron hires a pair of Italian intriguers, Annina and Valzacchi, to locate the shy servant girl.
When the room is cleared, the Marschallin, appalled by the thought of the rude Ochs marrying the innocent young girl, muses on her own waning youth. The returning Octavian is surprised to find her in a distant and melancholy mood. He passionately declares his love but she can only think about the passing of time and tells him that one day he will leave her for a younger woman. Hurt, he rushes off. The Marschallin tries to call him back, but it is too late. She summons her page and sends Octavian the silver rose.
On the morning of her engagement, Sophie excitedly awaits the arrival of the cavalier of the rose. Octavian enters and presents her with the silver rose on behalf of the Baron. Sophie accepts, enraptured, and the two young people feel an instant attraction to each other. When Ochs, whom Sophie has never met, arrives, the girl is shocked by his crude manners. Ochs goes off to discuss the wedding contract with Faninal, and Sophie asks Octavian for help. They end up embracing and are surprised by Annina and Valzacchi, who summon Ochs. The outraged Octavian grazes the Baron’s arm with his rapier and Ochs melodramatically calls for a doctor. In the ensuing confusion, Sophie tells her father that she will not marry the Baron, while Octavian enlists Annina and Valzacchi to participate in an intrigue he is hatching. When Ochs is alone, nursing his wound with a glass of wine, Annina, sent by Octavian, appears with a letter from “Mariandel,” asking Ochs to a rendezvous. Intoxicated with his own charm, the Baron is delighted at the prospect of a tête-à-tête. When he refuses to tip Annina, she determines to get even.
At Octavian’s instigation, Annina and Valzacchi prepare the back room of a dingy inn for Ochs’s rendezvous. Before long, the Baron and “Mariandel” arrive for a private supper. As she coyly leads him on, grotesque apparitions pop out of windows and secret panels, terrifying the Baron. Annina, disguised as a widow, runs in crying that Ochs is the father of her many children. When the police appear, Ochs claims that “Mariandel” is his fiancée. The arriving Faninal, furious at his future son-in-law’s behavior, summons Sophie to set matters straight, then faints and is carried off. At the height of the confusion, the Marschallin enters. Octavian takes off his disguise and the Marschallin explains to Ochs that it was all a farce. He finally admits defeat and leaves, pursued by the innkeeper and various other people who all demand payment of their bills. Left alone with Octavian and Sophie, the Marschallin laments that she must lose her lover so soon, but nevertheless accepts the truth. She gives the bewildered Octavian to Sophie and quietly leaves the room. The young lovers realize that their dream has come true.
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