The Lyric Opera continues a strong streak of singing with Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, which opens this month. The show is a hefty confection for a cold Chicago February, reviving an ultra-traditional production (which originated at San Francisco Opera) of high-ceilinged rooms and chandeliers as setting for a Mozartean farce, updated with a tinge of modern neurosis. With a runtime exceeding four hours, Strauss’ thick Viennese froth wouldn’t quite be enough to vary a listener’s interest without Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s tightly constructed libretto, which gives each of the three acts a satisfying and even svelte dramatic shape. But the story, in this case, which inherits and matures Figaro’s themes of romantic escapade and heartbreak, elevates the musical setting.
The story is anchored by three women, who each marry lightness and poise in the voice, though in different ways. Sophie Koch, playing the young lover Octavian (who later masquerades as a maid), sings with an appealingly young forthrightness, while Christina Landshamer, who plays Octavian’s lover-to-be Sophie, soars in the high register and hints at darkness in the low. Reserved as always was Amanda Majeski’s performance as the Marschallin, a princess whose advanced age compared to her young lover (she’s in her 30s) causes her to reflect, in the midst of lovemaking and in distinctly un-Mozartean fashion, on the transience of existence.
Majeski has a way of sliding languidly into notes, letting them come upon her in a way that projects immense self-assurance. Her creamy tone sits beautifully atop Edward Gardner’s direction of the orchestra; the British conductor kept the Straussian textures from getting over-thick, and found an ideal cadence and lilt in the waltzes that evoked a former Strauss.
With clear direction from Martina Weber and well-executed hits (such as the lush trio from the end of the third act), the show will appeal to those with nostalgia for the production and wish to escape the biting cold with the sound of strings warmed by horns. And if the overfamiliar staging of a golden European parlor begins to dull in the fourth hour, one can at least sympathize with the Marschallin, who notes the years that have passed and wonders whether it might be time to embrace whatever comes next.
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