Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier / Metropolitan Opera, 1982 (1)

Did you know that they borrowed the silver rose used in this production from Covent Garden? I didn’t know this until just now – I was looking through the booklet because I was curious to see whether the video direction was by the ubiquitous Brian Large, who I am at this point convinced is not one man but rather a sinister collective of some kind. The fine print at the back of the booklet indicates the provenance of the rose, but Large is nowhere to be found. This is like one of those things in a Haruki Murakami novel, where some small and yet significant detail indicates that the world has been subtly shifted in some new direction. Whether the detail is Large’s absence, or whether the detail would have been his presence is difficult to determine. If I were a character in a Murakami novel what I’d probably do now is prepare a simple meal out of a very specific list of ingredients and eat it while listening to one of Vivaldi’s chamber pieces on the radio and drinking a cold beer, but since I’m not a character in a Murakami novel, I will be eating leftover black bean chili and writing about a Strauss opera.

Whenever I listen to Der Rosenkavalier I experience a certain amount of frustration, which has everything to do with me and nothing to do with Strauss. I have not actually heard this opera that many times, and I still feel as if I haven’t absorbed it yet. It’s a tricky thing for me, absorbing music. When I think about the operas where I really feel like I know what’s going on (Mozart’s and Handel’s mainly, as well as some of Verdi’s) it’s because I first heard them in snippets – the famous sections, which with eighteenth century operas tend to be relatively short and which fit easily on recital CDs. I must have heard “parto, parto” or “dove sono” or “piangerò la sorte mia” hundreds of times individually. When you hear things in well-defined little pieces it’s easier, later on, to hear all the pieces in sequence, and at that point you begin to start hearing the whole work, and you don’t have to worry about the subsections anymore. But it’s helpful that in baroque or classical or even some romantic-era opera the sections tend to be well-defined. It gives you a starting point.

But this method of absorbing music doesn’t work as well with things like Strauss. The pieces are bigger, and the relationship between the vocal parts and the orchestral parts feels different. Slicing the up the first act of Der Rosenkavalier into sections feels a little more artificial than, say, distinguishing “cinque, dieci, venti” and “se a caso madama” from the first act of Le Nozze di Figaro. I mean, there are sections in Strauss, but – like the relationship between vocal parts and orchestra – it works a little bit differently. There are still large stretches of this opera where I feel like I am faced with a wall of sound that I have difficulty parsing. Doesn’t mean I don’t like it – the opposite, in fact. But it does mean I don’t really feel like it and I are quite friends yet.

(Next section here.)

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