Strauss-Hofmannsthal, Der Rosenkavalier. Staatsoper Stuttgart 1/9/2011. Production by Stefan Herheim, conducted by Manfred Honeck with Christiane Iven (Marshallin), Marina Prudenskaja (Octavian), Mandred Hemm (Ochs), Jutta Böhnert (Sophie), Karl-Friedrich Dürr (Faninal), Bogdan Mihai (Italian Singer), full cast listed here
There’s a lot going on in this production. I suspect I didn’t understand or perhaps even note half of it (it was the end of a busy week, I was tired, and also this was actually my first-ever Herheim production). If Calixto Bieito’s Fidelio is a hedgehog (it knows one big thing) Herheim’s Rosenkavalier is most definitely a fox (it knows many things). As soon as it was over, I wanted to see it again so I could catch more of what was going on, which says how challenging it was, but also how how AWESOME.
The staged prelude not only unerringly follows the music but sets up the entire production to come. The Marschallin contemplates herself in the mirror to strains not of Strauss but of some misty Muzak, sitting in the midst of a timeless night sky, surrounded by fog (I recently said to be wary of scenes in front of starry firmaments, but this one is entirely aware of its own kitschiness--well played). Then she pushes her fist through the mirror and the overture takes off in all its violence. Out of the mists appear a Hans Makart-esque mural depicting the rape of Europa, which comes to life, and she is beset by enthusiastic satyrs. One, the figure of Pan, makes a silver rose out of the shards of the mirror. Finally, the Marschallin is plucked from their grasp by the silver figure of Octavian.
|Note: photos from premiere cast (different Ochs and Sophie)|
Then we escape into art. Mariandel drunkenly proclaims the beauty of music, sobbing into a giant handkerchief (remember the end of the opera, people), her long-winded incoherence making even the conductor and prompter get lost. It’s a knowing nod to the work’s overblown, oversized sentiment, the narcissistic mise en abîme of music about music, and even the notorious longeurs of Act 3 (by the way, if I’m not mistaken, there were some cuts in the police commissioner scene). Finally, Ochs fails to strangle the ostrich and the forces of Strauss, Apollo, and sentiment emerge victorious. The Marschallin enters Act 3 as the embodiment of the European Union, assuring the triumph of Octavian and the Marschallin's younger double, Sophie. Ochs, rendered superfluous, blasts off into space in a shower of sparks.
The production moves dizzyingly but seamlessly between these symbolic levels. It’s dense but tremendously rich. It might not make any sense in a logical way, but it is not meant to, and the resonances are striking at every moment. The chaotic workings follow the drama and details of the music in such a natural and compelling way that it feels remarkably whole even through the busiest staging moments. And the shifting set, elaborate costumes, and sheer amount of stagecraft on display doesn’t skimp on spectacle.
There’s something a little redundant about a deconstruction of a work that arguably already deconstructs itself, that contains its own built-in irony valve. But the way that Herheim broadens his context, which probably sounds confusing as I have described it, saves it from mean-spiritedness or the very self-absorption that he condemns. It is unerringly smart and well-paced.
I liked Manfred Honeck’s conducting a lot. It was fast, loud (yet did not overpower the singers), extreme in dynamics, and dramatic. This was not a delicate or exquisite or even a Viennese Rosenkavalier, but it was exciting and had a point of view. The orchestra is not Vienna in sound but they are excellent and followed Honeck’s direction better than the Staatsoper group can usually muster.
I have been around the block with this opera recently, this was my fifth Rosenkavalier in the last year and a half (two Met [one reviewed], one Budapest, one Wien) but it was, needless to say, completely different from any of the previous ones. Is it too much? “Ist bereits zu stark, als dass man ertragen kann”? It’s not dessert, but you don’t get work this rich and intelligent very often, so you’re probably safe from having to think this much too frequently. And enjoy the opportunity when you can get it.
You can read a very interesting interview with Herheim about this production here (in German).
No more Herheim or Bieito for a while, please! They take too damn long to think and blog about! I need a good Wiener Staatsoper rep night where the set is a bunch of battlements and a wrinkly painting of a mountain, everyone bumbles around in front of it like SNL rejects, one or two people sing pretty, the conductor does something crazy in the Act 3 prelude, and I polish off my review in 20 minutes. Speaking of, Lucia di Lammermoor on Friday! Also, it may seem that I am slacking off on my Schenk-related promises but I am merely gearing up for a big conclusion post.
Photos copyright Martin Sigmund/Staatsoper Stuttgart.