Monday, January 11, 2010

The folks I met at the Met

What with talking about my weird experiences at the Metropolitan Opera Simulcast I  never got around to mentioning my other impressions on the production of "Der Rosenkavalier."

One thing, I forgot how adult the whole opera is. My sister Katie teaches high school German and was thinking of taking her class and I say, "Achtung!" This is really a sex comedy like "The Marriage of Figaro" and before I took high schoolers with all their friends I would really think twice.

Another thing, I am not sure that the big screen, with all those huge closeups, works with an opera like this. From a distance you can suspend disbelief and the "trousers role" works: You can imagine Susan Graham being a man. Up close it is tough. Although I do give Susan Graham credit for capturing those male mannerisms. I once interviewed a singer about doing that for "Hansel and Gretel." She was playing Hansel and she told me about the adjustments you have to make when you are playing a boy. I thought Susan Graham did that beautifully.

Amazing, that Renee Fleming and Susan Graham sang "Rosenkavalier" together at the Met 10 years ago. At the Simulcast I learned that on intermission the camera takes you backstage. You glimpsed Fleming and Graham walking offstage and they kind of clasped hands for a moment before going their separate ways. Old buddies in this opera.

As Sophie, I thought Christine Schaefer was a bit too stern and moody. Poor Octavian, he was trading in one moody woman for another. Well, maybe that is his type.

I had forgotten the magnificence of the Baron Ochs role. Forgive me: The last time I saw this opera all the way through, I was 16.  Our Ochs in this production was terrific. They brought him in from Finland. He has a beautiful name,  Kristinn Sigmundsson. He was a biologist, imagine that! That is he in the picture up above except it is a different Sophie.

Sigmundsson was a wonderful Ochs. He had all these great comic touches, such as after Faninal kisses his hand you see him wipe his hand off on the back of the jacket of one of his manservants. Ha, ha! You had to look closely to see that but I did. His manservants all looked like guys out of "Monty Python," unkempt and rough. When Ochs came out for his curtain calls he blew kisses to the audience. On the second intermission the camera followed him backstage and you saw him walking through backstage in his red coat like a big live nerve. Radiating life and humor and fun. And acting like Ochs, as if he owns the place.

They asked him something about how he approached the role and what he thought of Baron Ochs.

He gloated: "The opera was almost named after me!" Which, amazingly, it was. The working title was "Ochs von Lerchenau." It is incredible to imagine it being called that now, accustomed as we are to the romantic title "Der Rosenkavalier."

Then Sigmundsson said: "There is a little bit of Ochs in all of us."

Ain't that the truth!

There was a more than a little bit of Ochs in the guy behind me in the theater, I have to say that. Well, I griped about that already. I have to put that behind me.

Ochs is supposed to be this bumptious German of the worst type but here is one thing: Those glorious romantic waltzes, they all come from Ochs' music. You can tell that Strauss viewed this oaf with affection. He liked Ochs. It shows in the music.

Funny, when Ochs looks at Octavian and says, "I see myself in him." So does it work out that Octavian was in reality Ochs' son? It sure looked that way to me.

It is great that Ochs in English is the exact same thing, ox. We can get the joke.

It is also great that the stereotypes of the little servant boy and the Italian tenor hang on. Nice of the world to respect that they are needed in the opera.

My mother cried at the ending. When the servant boy skips in to pick up the handkerchief. That is such a beautiful ending and the little boy who played the part did it so well.

What a masterpiece that opera is, from the first second to the last.

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