Der Rosenkavalier – Lyric Opera REVIEW
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By Richard Strauss
Lyric Opera of Chicago
By Lori Dana
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s latest offering, romantic comedy Der Rosenkavalier, seems deftly timed, not only to coincide with that pinnacle of romantic gestures known as the Valentine Weekend Outing, but also to bring some lightheartedness to a city in the depths of its frozen winter season. Saturday evening’s performance did just that, with a cast led by the sparkling talent of soprano Amanda Majeski as the beautiful Marschallin, all wrapped up in Strauss’ gorgeous music and presented in an elaborately gilded setting as delectable as a box of Viennese chocolates. In addition to the production itself, the lobby of the opera house was overflowing with fragrant roses (a special gift for 20 year subscribers), sweet treats, and bubbling raspberry and champagne cocktails, making more than a few opera lovers’ Valentine expectations complete.
Der Rosenkavalier is a rather typical drawing-room comedy of its time. The story opens with the Marschallin romping with her seventeen year old lover in a lush bedchamber. Her husband, the Field Marshall, is away (one assumes on some military mission) and her romantic reverie is about to be interrupted by a pesky relative who needs a favor. Her cousin, Baron Ochs of Lerchenau is a boorish sort who despite the best efforts of the Marschallin’s footmen to dissuade him, manages to push his way into the bedchamber just as the young lover Octavian disappears behind a screen. Ochs needs the Marschallin’s support in winning the hand of a nouveau riche young lady, Sophie von Faninal, whose merchant father is newly titled (and for the impoverished but royal Ochs, conveniently in poor health.) Custom requires that a relative of the prospective groom deliver a silver rose to his intended, and the baron is seeking the Marschallin’s help in finding a “rosenkavalier”. Octavian, who happens to be a distant cousin, is presented by the Marschallin as the perfect candidate. Predictably, when Octavian and Sophie meet for the first time, they fall immediately in love. With both tied to older, wealthy aristocrats their dilemma is apparent. The road to a happy ending is bittersweet for Octavian and his ladylove, less so for Sophie and the Baron, whose piggish ways with the ladies (including Octavian disguised as the Marschallin’s chambermaid) lead him eventually to his just desserts.
It is to the great credit of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center that the most outstanding vocalists in Der Rosenkavalier are two of its talented alumna. Amanda Majeski gives a gorgeous performance as the philosophical noblewoman at the center of the action, and in the first act René Barbera shows off his stellar tenor as the court singer who entertains her. In his Lyric debut, British bass Matthew Rose is suitably oily as Baron Ochs, especially opposite delicate German soprano Christina Landshamer in her first American appearance. Ms. Landshamer’s singing seems thin at first, but opens up pleasantly as the opera progresses, and her gentle interpretations are appropriately tentative for the young, socially inexperienced Sophie. The international cast is rounded out by French mezzo Sophie Koch in the role of Octavian (one for which she has been celebrated throughout Europe) and German baritone Martin Gantner as Sophie’s hapless father. The always-excellent Lyric chorus directed by Michael Black adds vibrancy to the crowd scenes (hooray for some action in the final act!) and the 86 member Lyric Opera Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Edward Gardner, deftly gives a superlative performance of Strauss’ intricate score.
As entertaining as this production is, one cannot help but wish for a more updated version of Der Rosenkavalier. Somehow, this piece doesn’t quite have sexy energy and universal appeal of a Marriage of Figaro (to which it is often compared), and even that perennial favorite benefited greatly from an updated attitude this season, including more contemporary subtitles and racier interpretations of its broad humor. Here’s hoping that next time around, Der Rosenkavalier gets a similar refreshing makeover.
(“Der Rosenkavalier,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through March 13 (Please note early curtain time: 6:30 p.m.) at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. 312-827-5600)
LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO – Der Rosenkavalier
Der Rosenkavalier production photos by Cory Weaver and Andrew Cioffi.