Chicago Theatre Review
Threads of Silver and Gold
Der Rosenkavalier – Lyric Opera of Chicago
A rare evening for any operagoer is Richard Strauss “Der Rosenkavalier,” a bubbling and soaring three-act extravaganza chock full of high comedy and pathos. Much of the time is spent in dizzying suspension, high above the treble staff, with two stunning roles for soprano, a high-flying mezzo-soprano pants role, and an absence of leading parts for either tenor or baritone. A contemporary of composers with such wide-ranging styles as Puccini and Lehár, Strauss sang with his own voice, although it must have delighted him to have included in this 1911 “Comedy for Music” a tenor aria that could have been ripped from the pages of the former’s 1900 “Tosca” and a song easily transplantable to the latter’s 1911 “The Merry Widow.”
Conductor Edward Gardner guides Lyric’s orchestra with great acuity, calling the brass to slide and shout, and inviting the violins and flutes to tinkle and whisper. “Der Rosenkavalier” marks the beginning of Strauss’ partnership with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and he matches this dramatist’s words with some of his most romantic music, employing less dissonance and using orchestral colors to outline the chromatic underpinnings and support the opulent melodies. Gardner is in constant synch with his singers, even when the stage is packed from left-to-right with royalty, footmen, orphans, “intriguers,” and three of the sweetest, most stage-savvy dogs imaginable.
The singer who would succeed at Strauss must possess the freedom of tone necessary to brave the rapidly-shifting musicality of his phrases and the buoyant athleticism of their leaps, while maintaining a narrow delineation of pitch. In the plum role of The Marschallin, Chicago-favorite Amanda Majeski makes short work of this challenge. In the Act I Monologue, “Da geht er hin,” the Illinois-born soprano threads her golden sound fearlessly, with a flawless vibrato like a flicker hovering over a carefully-controlled flame. If Majeski is the gold in this glowing tapestry, soprano Christina Landshamer, making her American debut, supplies Sophie’s silver, shimmering up to the top of the scale, alighting, and then blossoming in answer to that unique Straussian affectation. As Octavian, mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch imbued her voice with rich and varied colorings, although I would have enjoyed more specificity of pitch on the evening I heard her. (Alice Coote takes over the role of Octavian on March 4.)
As the offish Baron Ochs, bass Matthew Rose essays the only lower-clef role of the evening. Ochs is a huge role, and requires as large a vocal range as those of “Rosenkavalier’s” leading ladies. Rose handles the requirements with assurance, hoofing and puffing, wailing and whining his way around this buffo character, while maintaining the score’s vocal ethos; at the end of Act Two, collapsed on a couch, Rose is still sending forth glowing basso tones, wending away in a true craftsman’s vibrato.
The myriad supporting parts in “Rosenkavalier” require vocal virtuosity and deft characterizations, and this cast does not disappoint. Martin Gantner brings baritonal befuddlement to Faninal, Rodell Rosel and Megan Marino are feisty and full of voice as the “intriguers,” (two flamboyant scandalmongers-for-hire), and René Barbera puts the “T” on tenor, licking a finger mid-note before turning a page in his music. Laura Wilde’s Marianna is funny and fawning, and Philip Kraus steals his every moment as the frazzled Notary. Tenor Jonathan Johnson’s Innkeeper is perfectly pitched both vocally and histrionically, and bass Patrick Guetti’s turn as Police Commissioner is richly sung, menacing and sensual. Guetti, a first-year Ryan Opera Center member, is making his debut in this role, and if this is indicative of the work we will see in the future, he is a welcome addition to Lyric’s roster.
While “Der Rosenkavalier” is 100 years old, it is still a modern opera in many ways, and the story is greatly enhanced when a psychological perspective is married with Strauss’ emotional music. Director Martina Weber’s cast, whether by directorial decision or individual design, often miss their full potential when they either disconnect from their characters’ unsung passions, or hold them too close to the chest for the audience to come along for the ride. Some of this may be due to an old-school blocking scheme where the singers park-and-bark for long periods of time, or turn their backs to the audience when it might be more fulfilling for us to watch their faces as they experience what they are hearing from their colleagues, or silently living.
Nevertheless, the four hours-and-then-some breezed by, the expansive effect of Strauss’ brilliantly intertwining themes culminating in the famous, final trio, with Sophie’s discovery, Octavian’s understanding, and the Marschillian’s acceptance. The fourth character of the orchestra turns trio into magnificent quartet.
Reviewed by Aaron Hunt
Presented February 8 – March 13 by Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago
Tickets are available by calling 312-827-5600 or by going to lyricopera.org
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com