While Otto Schenk’s Wiener Staatsoper Der Rosenkavalier have been spiffed up and the staging is showing alarming signs of rehearsal, a great Rosenkavalier still requires a great cast. While Adrianne Pieczonka’s Marschallin is very fine, neither she nor her less distinguished costars quite lit up the stage. With the exception of the excellent orchestra, this wouldn’t have rated above a solidly routine Rosenkavalier in most houses. In Vienna, a city that takes its Rosenkavalier almost as seriously as its Mozart, it ranks as a disappointment.
Strauss–Hofmannsthal, Der Rosenkavalier. Wiener Staatsoper, 12/26/2010. Production by Otto Schenk, conducted by Asher Fisch with Adrianne Pieczonka (Marschallin), Stephanie Houtzeel (Octavian), Daniela Fally (Sophie), Alfred Muff (Ochs).
This was the 342nd performance of Otto Schenk’s production, which can memorably be seen on DVD conducted by Carlos Kleiber with Felicity Lott and Anne Sofie von Otter (the DVD with Kleiber and Gwyneth Jones is of Schenk’s similar but not identical Munich production of the opera). The sets have been restored and the costumes are new (though not very different from the old ones). It looks fine, though the low proscenium in Act 1 makes it feel small-scale. Act 3 also has a low proscenium. While this is appropriate for the inn, it makes things hard to see from the gallery level of the opera house, and the Ochs booby traps in particular don’t read well. The color palette still includes an unfortunate amount of beige. As one of the newspaper headlines put it, “No longer a visual ruin.” I guess that’s saying something. Not much, but something.
The staging showed more detail and clarity in blocking than your average Staatsoper repertory night, with very few static moments and good interaction between the principals. However, neither the production nor most of the cast managed to leave an individual or memorable mark. Adrianne Pieczonka as the Marschallin fared best. Her voice is smooth, gentle, never forced, and her diction and articulation of the text were excellent. She was a relatively youthful Marschallin, yet dignified and generally melancholy, lacking in a certain amount of Viennese irony. With the large exception of her touching, precisely observed monologue, she was also rather unassuming and modest in presence.
Alfred Muff was direly unfunny and vocally exhausted as Ochs, with dry, nasal tone and a bafflingly complete lack of humor. Daniela Fally. subbing for the ill Ileana Tonca, was a charmingly acted Sophie, but too quiet in her lower register and more squeezed than floated in the upper. Supporting roles were perfectly competent but unmemorable, including Gergely Németi’s narrow-voiced Italian Singer. However, the Staatsoper can be counted on to do a solid job with the Orphans, servants, and so on.
The orchestra was having a good night and played the score with fantastic technical polish and fine tone (I think they have had a lot of practice with this one). They were often too loud but I enjoyed hearing them anyways. Asher Fisch conducted a competent account of the score without a great deal of differentiation or flexibility.
We can do better than this, can’t we? We can come up with something more original and memorable, no? My attempt to find a more stimulating Rosenkavalier will continue at the Staatsoper Stuttgart in two weeks with a production by Stefan Herheim. For some reason I suspect it might be a little different.
Also, can we talk about the Staatsoper website disappearing operas as soon as their runs are over? It took quite a lot of Googling for me to find these photos, and it was yesterday.
Photos copyright Wiener Staatsoper.