I was excited to get a chance to see this performance, for reasons – or rather a reason – that you’d probably guess. I love how Dorothea Röschmann (here, the Marschallin) sings, and I have never had the pleasure of hearing her live before.
I was not disappointed. For one thing, I was in the very first row, which meant that nothing but the orchestra pit separated me and the lady in question, and this was utterly terrific. Hearing this singer that I’ve admired so intensely based on her recordings was profoundly satisfying in a way that’s difficult to communicate.
But first the preliminaries. The Staatsoper’s production did not get in the way of the music. All three acts take place in a white domed room with doors or entrance ways all around. In Act I the Marschallin has a bed, and there are some pillows strewn on the floor. We catch the Marschallin and Octavian in flagrante. The two of them are on the floor, hidden by the bed, and during the opening music we see Octavian’s (Magdalena Kozená’s) bare legs and the Marschallin’s outstretched hands; one of the, ah, climaxes in the music is put to obvious but I guess effective storytelling use. This same room, with the addition of rows of anonymous armorial breastplates on the walls and a globe that hides a drinks cabinet, becomes the Faninal house for Act II; a rug and some chairs and tables create the inn for the third act. This is one of those ‘not the modern world, but not any specific point in the past’ productions. In Act I the Marschallin – once she puts some clothes on rather than lounging about in nothing but a sheet – wears an eighteenth-century style dress with panniers, and Octavian’s clothes are appropriate for this time period, as are Sophie’s, roughly speaking, but by Act III the Marschallin’s got this black number that might have been stylish in 1917, and throughout Ochs wears a red robe with leopard print lining that looks like he nicked it from the dressing room of a 1970s porn star. In general this production is simple and effective. The only part that annoyed me was the various ways in which Ochs was mocked in Act III. Some of them, like moving around the furniture and the indoor plants, worked fine; others, like the figures dressed as Octavian that fly on wires around the edge of the stage, were not terribly funny and bordered on annoying.
My heart was in my mouth when I saw a sign labeled “Änderungen” (changes) on reaching the theater, but what had happened was that Peter Rose, who sings Ochs, woke up without his voice that day – or such was my understanding of what the woman who came on stage to explain this said; in addition to this, the Schiller Theater has no supertitles that I could see, so my German comprehension certainly got a run for its money with this one – and so Rose acted, while another man stood at the edge of the stage and sang. I failed to write down the singer’s name, but he had a nice sound, and was quite expressive (he and Rose were quite the singing/acting duo as Ochs) and I had no complaints, other than that because of where I was sitting, the fact that the singer was forward on the stage and very near me occasionally affected the balance of the ensembles.
In general, the quality of this performance was high. Kozená did not disappoint as Octavian. I’ve liked her voice for a long time, and I still like it. (It seemed to me, especially early on, that the Schiller Theater’s auditorium gave a sort of edge or push to the voices that I haven’t heard elsewhere – not sure quite how to describe it.) Kozená is not super-convincing as a young man – she can sit like a dude, but she doesn’t walk like one, and in one bit near end of Act II where Octavian is fending off various poeple with a chair, she couldn’t quite hold the chair up! – but we don’t hire mezzos based on upper body strength, so never mind. Also, she gave a slightly different color to the sound in Act III as ‘Mariandel,’ which I liked. Anna Prohaska was a pleasant surprise for me as Sophie. She managed to look about sixteen, but the character has some bite to her – this Sophie is a relatively powerless young girl who is not out for anything more than love and a little respect, but she is not cloyingly sweet. Prohaska has a very solid-sounding voice, one that blended really well with Kozená’s; I liked it immensely.
And then there is Röschmann as the Marschallin. During the first act I simply got absorbed in listening to her sing. The phrasing, especially during last section of the act that begins with “da geht er hin”, had all the subtlety that you would expect, and I also discovered that the lowest register of her voice has a really lovely velvety quality that apparently does not get fully communicated on recordings! I liked it before; I like it even better now. And of course she’s acting her heart out, especially during Act III, where I admit I spent some time just watching her face while other people were singing. Between her and Kozená and Prohaska that final trio was one of the most intense moments of the performance. The top note during the last trio required a fair amount of effort – or it seemed so; certainly Röschmann was physically throwing herself into the singing. I am looking forward to hearing this again on Friday!
(Discussion of Friday the 21st’s performance here.)