Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

An absolutely charming Otto Schenk production of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss at the Staatsoper this evening.  Schenk paid fine attention to all of the little details, in a thoughtful staging first produced in 1968.  Schenk’s intelligent direction and love of theater proved that directors can make audiences think about the plot without having to shock the audience with nonsense, and made me lament even more the creepy German directors who plague the world these days.

In this version, Schenk played up the concept of the Marschallin as the driving force in the plot.  She knows Ochs, and she knows Octavian, so when presented with an opportunity in Act One, she knows well what will happen if she suggests Octavian to perform the role of the Rosenkavalier.  Indeed, the predictable indeed happens in Act Two, and when she reappears in Act Three she ensures everything turns out as she planned.

As for small details, these were everywhere – from the maid in Act One who makes the bed while the Marschallin is having her morning audience, being sure to spray the sheets and pillows with perfume from a period perfume dispenser; to Ochs in Act One flirting with every female who enters the room during the Marschallin’s audience, but while flitting about has a moment to playfully pet the puppy carried in by the animal dealer; to the detail in which the servants apply the Marschallin’s make-up, comb her hair, and get her ready for the day.  In Act Two, when Octavian hurls his wine glass angrily to the ground in Faninal’s house, a servant appears immediately from nowhere and quickly and quietly sweeps up the glass as would have happened in real life.  These are all little touches, but show a love for the opera and an attention to detail that is sadly missing from most new productions these days.

The cast responded to such a staging by acting their parts.  The blocking was excellent, and stage directions clear (and often sensuous), and the acting was strong.  The cast was a typical Wiener Ensemble cast – the only big star was Franz Gundheber in the secondary role of Faninal, but everyone strongly filled their roles, in a complete way that seemingly only happens in Vienna.  This included the Sophie, Daniela Fally, who was a very last-moment substitution.  Adrienne Pieczonka, as the Marschallin, displayed excellent stage presence, capable of directing the action through her voice, inflections, and demeanor.  Alfred Muff was a playful Ochs, who realized too late what the Marschallin was up to – including coming to the realization that the Marschallin and Octavian had been lovers, and although he was subject to pillory for his infidelities, she had one-upped him and turned the Luck of the Lerchenau upside down.  When he fled the scene in Act Three, he had almost become sympathetic.  Stephanie Houtzeel came across as a convincing young Octavian, unaware of the world but sure of his love.

The orchestra, of course, probably knows this work by heart, but a steady conductor is nevertheless a prerequisite to hold the whole opera together, especially with so much activity on the stage.  Asher Fisch pulled this off effortlessly.

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