It is a curious fact that I managed to write nearly 1200 words about this production without actually saying anything about Malin Hartelius, who sings the role of Sophie. This will not do at all. I got distracted by Stemme’s voice and Kasarova’s acting, but this does mean that Hartelius’s performance was not worth hearing.
Here is the scene from Act II where Octavian brings Sophie the silver rose:
What struck me about the section above were those cool, bright high notes. This is a lighter voice compared to Stemme’s or Kasarova’s, and the sound makes sense for the sort of character Sophie is.
Here again is the trio and Octavian and Sophie’s last duet.
It’s probably an obvious point, but it tells you a great deal about Sophie that we rarely hear her alone — her voice is nearly always mingled with others. She is one of those characters who take form almost entirely in relationship to other people. I find myself hearing more of Stemme and Kasarova in this than I do of Hartelius – I can pick out the gleam of the highest notes better than the rest of it.
Finally, two more points about the libretto and the staging. Watching this production, it struck me again that this is one of those operas where if you move the setting of the action, many of the details of the libretto don’t make as much sense. How religious the Marschallin seems to be, for one — religious in a sort of eighteenth-century way, where it’s just part of the fabric of the character’s mental world, not because she’s particularly pious — and also a few other little things, like where Ochs asks Annina if she can read writing. This refers to the fact that in the past many people could read printed text but not handwriting (and still others, including many women, could read but not write).
Second, the old fellow in the silver coat. When Sophie is waiting for the rose-bearer to arrive, she spots him out the window and notes that the rose-bearer is dressed all in silver – but when Octavian arrives, he is dressed in pale yellow with a dark blue overcoat. The old man is the one dressed in silver. He interacts only a little with the other characters, and when Ochs sings his song he dances, alone. A representation of the fact that Octavian too will some day be old? Is this figure a personification of Time in a more general sense? This would tie in with the way Octavian messes with Ochs in Act III where there are all the figures in skeleton suits that Octavian pretends he doesn’t see — Time and its inevitable consequence, death, is not haunting only the Marschallin. (And we should probably not get started on why the waiters at the inn are dressed up as bugs. Although if anyone has thoughts on that, or on the old fellow in silver, tell me!)