Thursday, June 09, 2005

OPERA: Der Rosenkavalier

I'd heard from a couple of reliable sources that Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier was not to be missed, and they were absolutely right. I had the pleasure of seeing this opera last night, and it was sublime. The story is of an older noblewoman having an affair with a young noble lover, and how she gracefully resigns herself to the inevitability of losing him to a younger woman. (I couldn't help but think of The Graduate, but the Marschallin acts much more gracefully than Mrs. Robinson. A Litte Night Music was also called to mind.) This touching emotional drama is comedically balanced with a boorish older cousin who aims to marry the younger girl. Musically, Strauss is at his best with the emotional parts, which he wrote as a soprano-fest. With the young lover written as a soprano in a trouser role, all three sides of the triangle are sopranos, and in the third act the emotional and musical climax is a soprano trio. All three sopranos were exquisite, with Adrianne Pieczonka (whom we'd seen as Elsa in Lohengrin) singing the Marschallin, Elizabeth Futral (whom we'd seen as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare) as the young Sophie, and Alice Coote (company debut) as Count Octavian. Bass Kurt Rydl (whom we also saw in Lohengrin, as King Henry) did a marvelous job singing and acting the boorish Baron von Lerchenau.

Los Angeles is blessed with a wealth of talented artists who make their home here, and the LA Opera has benefited from this rich local talent pool, having had opera sets designed by artists like David Hockney and operas directed by great Hollywood directors. This production of Der Rosenkavalier was directed by Maximilian Schell, and with remarkable set and costume design by artist Gottfried Helnwein. Taking the original sense of roccoco "over-the-top-ness" and recreating it in a thoroughly modern way, Helnwein designed fantastic costumes that were a Tim Burton-esque Mardi Gras carnival. The sets and costumes were washed in an evolving color theme, with Act I being done all in shades of blue (except the Baron who stood out in gold), Act II being done all in shades of gold (except the Baron in red), and then Act III being done all in shades of red (except the Marschallin in a luminous light blue). These changing shades blended in fanciful ways from the set to the costumes to the make-up on some (the royal servants in the first act looked like the Blue Man Group), and always in the color of the young Count's hair (blue, then gold, then red). As the Marschallin declares in the last act, it was "all a Viennese farce", and these fanciful design choices reinforce that theme delightfully. The farce is perfectly balanced with the emotion of the love triangle, beautifully acted under Schell's direction, and with Kent Nagano masterfully evoking Strauss's sublime music. As the young lovers turn to each other in the end, the Marschallin accepts that her time has passed, and that you can't hold on to life's beautiful experiences, you must accept their transient nature and let them go. Even after four and a half hours of this opera, the audience last night was reluctant to let it go, and gave a standing ovation with several curtain calls.

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