Der Rosenkavalier / Stemme, Kasarova, Hartelius et al. / Zurich Opera 2004 (2)

[part one and discussion of the production here.]

The Marschallin in this production is Nina Stemme, who I had heard before on DVD as Aida. Aida is not my favorite opera by a long shot, and this may have caused me not to register how nice Stemme sounded. But she has what I would call the perfect sort of voice for the Marschallin.

Stemme has a big, rich, solid-sounding voice that just rings. It’s lovely. During the section toward the end of Act I where the Marschallin meditates on the passage of time, Stemme communicates the unanswerable sadness of the Marschallin’s thoughts very movingly.

And Octavian . . .well, Octavian is boyishly oblivious to the depth of what his lover is feeling. Kasarova has proved me right (to my own satisfaction, at least) in what I said here about Angelika Kirchschlager’s performance of this role. Kirchschlager sounded great, but I didn’t get a complex sense of Octavian as a person. With Kasarova I do.

Octavian is confused and pained by Marie Therese’s sadness, but there’s a part of that sadness that he isn’t even aware that he doesn’t understand. And he can’t be aware of it, because he’s only seventeen. When he meets Sophie it’s immediately obvious that she is better for him – his youthful obliviousness finds its match in Sophie’s own innocence and straightforward feeling. Because Octavian is a fairly straightforward sort of person. He’s not subtle. He isn’t aware that Marie Therese is too complicated for him, and even by the end of the opera I still don’t think he has realized this. (This is related to the point I made earlier about the capacity of the ‘toy’ to make one feel — Octavian does not really understand Marie Therese’s emotions, but this does not mean that what she feels for him is any less deep.)

And Octavian can engage in the unwitting cruelty of youth. When the Marschallin speaks of the inevitable passage of time in Act I, and how she knows he is going to leave her some day, Octavian accuses her of not speaking her own words – “who has put these words in your mouth?” And yet in Act III, when he is duping Ochs, and in a sense ‘not speaking his own words’ himself, Octavian as Mariandel pretends to get weepily drunk and sad over the passage of time. Octavian is not consciously mocking the Marschallin, but this is what it amounts to.

So. This is a nuanced acting performance. It is also a very good singing performance. Kasarova’s is a very distinctive-sounding voice, and I really enjoyed hearing her and Stemme, and her and Stemme and Hartelius, sing through and around one another. The final trio is terrific in its intensity:

And at the opera’s very end, after Octavian and Sophie have gone, we are left with the Marschallin and Mohammed on opposite sides of that chilly pane of glass. Some productions have her choosing a new lover in that final scene — sometimes, when Mohammed is a young man rather than a boy, he is the one chosen — but this one doesn’t. She is well and truly alone, at least for the time being.

4 thoughts on “Der Rosenkavalier / Stemme, Kasarova, Hartelius et al. / Zurich Opera 2004 (2)

  1. this was my first encounter with Nina Stemme… instant fan from first note! also was amazed with Kasarova’s acting (and Hartelius’). Love your analysis here; VK is giving us a glimpse of a deeper layer of Octavian (in this case his youth and youth’s mindset) than the typical scratch-of-skin near-surface characterization. It’s interesting I didn’t pay close attention to Hartelius’ take until after hearing many other takes… that rose presentation scene is still the most convincing one for me. and her (Hartelius’) phrasing and singing is truly breathtaking. voice mixing was also very very balanced. These two (Stemme + Kasarova) are teaming up again in Der R next summer (2013) in Zurich, i’ll be there! would really really love to have a chance to catch Hartelius live one of these days.


    1. I’d like to hear Hartelius live as well – I have a feeling that there’s something that I’m missing by hearing only the DVDs.

      I bet that Rosenkavalier in Zurich will be fantastic! I am in awe of Stemme’s voice. It’s on my list to go looking for other recordings that she’s done. I just looked up her schedule and she’ll be Isolde at the Houston opera next spring – I’m not a huge Wagner fan, but I’d go to hear her – she might convert me!


      1. perhaps seeing Wagner live will be different? I haven’t gotten into Wagner either, and the other night there was Tristan and Isolde with Stemme on vivalavoce, but audio-Wagner without knowing anything is not quite something i enjoy yet… but i caught (captured) a nice Stemme radio recording of Fidelio (with Kaufmann) and she was really really fantastic there. someone uploaded her aria on YT here.


        1. It might be different live – I’m willing to give it a shot, certainly.

          I tried Tristan und Isolde on DVD years ago because this friend of mine in graduate school loved Wagner and kept telling me that I’d like it too. Maybe I should dig out the DVD again.

          Thanks for the link – I’m enjoying Stemme right now as I drink my tea 🙂


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