Sunday, April 25, 2010

REVIEW: Der Rosenkavalier in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live

Graham + Fleming combination was totally unbeatable!

photo: courtesy of star.com

Yes, the production can be composed of an empty stage and I will still go to this screening of Richard Strauss’ Der Rorsenkavalier last night, 25th of April at the Wellcome Theatre at the Bethanie. Susan Graham as Octavian and Renee Fleming as Marschallin was a casting of paramount importance. Not only because they are some of the best singers in their voice categories, they were also performing their signature roles. They are also good friends that will definitely benefit their performance as lovers. The pressure, in this case, was really more on how they compete with their previous selves given that they have performed these roles for more than 10 years already.

Susan Graham was every bit Octavian (well, maybe lacking one tiny bit). Standing at 6 ft. tall, her height made her portrayal of a 17 year old count more believable. Her rich and luxuriant voice delivered a smooth and heartfelt performance; the way I remember her as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni when I saw her the first time performed live at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2004.

Renee Fleming has such a high place in my mind that subconsciously, I will try to rationalize whatever fault my logical mind detected. While I do have a slight dislike to her ever-increasing tendency to croon, her Marschallin was just sumptuous and extremely touching. The first time I saw her performed live was as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at The Metropolitan Opera in 2000. Whatever shimmer lost in her voice was more than compensated by the improved depth of her characterization and wider range of colors in her voice.

Christine Schafer as Sophie was another attraction. Though I haven’t seen Christine performed live before, I do have and enjoyed her recordings of German lieders. As it turned out, her lyric soprano voice was a bit dark for my taste. Timbre aside, her high registers were solid. Her characterization, however, was one-dimensional. When she was having her duets with Susan in the final act, one can feel that she was not comfortable and not committed to the scene.

Kristinn Sigmundsson proved to be an absolutely perfect fit for the role of Baron Ochs. He was boorish and booming, and yet he knew the limit so as to contain the character to remain lovable.

Our very “own”, Edo de Waart, led The Met Opera Orchestra with razor-sharp precision and bravura. While some people might find the energy too much and the lyrical passages lack warmth, I think it was quite refreshing to hear the opera not played with the usual sentimental drag. This is even more important in relation to Robert O’Hearn’s set and costume. Yes, it was beautiful and it was so nice to see its splendors all set out; but it would be just unbearable to hear a schmaltzy reading of the opera to go with it.

The biggest fault of the screening, however, was the sound. I suspect that the primary fault was not of the system used in the Wellcome Theatre, but rather on how the opera was recorded. Assuming that the recording engineer did a sound check prior to the performance, the recording sounded as if the orchestra played significantly louder during the performance itself. With this, the sound recording of the singers was therefore jacked up to balance the overall effect, which caused the whole sound to appear as if the microphones were placed to closely.

The usual backstage interviews that I was so looking forward to were hosted by Placido Domingo. Hmmm… the segments were too diplomatic and managed. It actually showed off Placido badly as it was too obvious that he was reading the prompter SLOWLY. How I wish they had Dolora Zajick instead (Why? Check out my review of Aida – March 2010).

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