(Overview of Tuesday the 18th’s performance here.)
Back again! I am really glad I got to see and hear this production a second time, although if you had asked me how I felt right after the end of Act I last night, I might have said something different.
There were things to enjoy about Act I, no question. I was as gripped as last time with the section where the Marschallin mocks her vision of her aging self in the mirror and wonders, anguished, why if God permits time to pass, he allows people to realize it; the bit where she describes to Octavian how at night she gets up and stops the clocks was likewise haunting. But as far as Act I was concerned, Frau Röschmann was not having quite as good a night as she did on Tuesday. More generally, I would say that across the board the first section of the opera didn’t click in the same way.
However. At the end of Act II (ahem: I am about to say something that indicates, counter to certain rumors that I was not paying attention to the orchestra, that I was in fact paying plenty of attention to the orchestra) I enjoyed Ochs’s final round with his waltz tune – Rattle and the Staatskapelle Berlin got the pulse of the music just right, with moments of big swelling sound alternating with more delicacy. I also liked the hard attacks from the lower strings at the moment when Ochs comes in after Valzacchi and Annina corner Octavian and Sophie together. This may have been an effect of where I was sitting, the middle of the third row, but the hall makes the orchestra sound very big but sort of rough-edged (with regard to how it sounds, not at all with reference to the quality of of the playing.)
Rather than singing from the sidelines this time, Jürgen Linn completely replaced the sick Peter Rose as Ochs – and oddly enough, I found I liked it better, both in terms of sound and in terms of acting, when he was singing and Rose was acting. Linn bordered on hammy. He was doing a bit too much nudge-and-wink toward the audience during Ochs’s attempted seduction of Mariandel in Act III.
That said, Linn did contribute a significant amount of energy to the third act, and I would say that it was in Act III that this performance began to really take off. Octavian’s (Kožená’s) schtick as Mariandel seemed to have a little bit more of an interesting edge to it this time – although I have yet to figure out why she looks so annoyed during the first part of this elaborate practical joke. Isn’t Octavian supposed to be having some fun here?
But as soon as that rear door opened and the Marschallin swept in, it was on. At her best, in addition to the lovely sound, Röschmann brings an utter precision of dramatic expression to every syllable she sings – and it’s evident even if you don’t understand every word of the text. The anguish that this character endures as she gives up Octavian was palpable – this is a Marschallin who reveals flashes of anger and well-concealed resentment as well as dignity. She does what she must, but there’s no mistaking how much it hurts her. The Octavian/Sophie/Marschallin trio near the end of Act III was riveting – riveting is in fact a bit of an understatement – and I discovered the advantage to sitting in the center of the hall rather than near the side. That note in the trio that seemed to require so much effort last time? Well, the reason for that is that it’s probably triple forte in the score, seeing as how it has to carry over the other singers and the orchestra, and I actually had the benefit of hearing it this time! (Also, Kožená and Anna Prohaska gave a really intense and beautiful performance of Octavian and Sophie’s final duet – I thought that was great.)
One more thing about staging. In the first scene of the opera, it seems that the Marschallin and Octavian spent the previous night at a masquerade ball – there is a glittering death’s head mask among the pieces of clothing and ribbons on the floor. The Marchallin toys with the mask at several points, as do some of the other characters. This object seems to be part momento mori and part a reminder that there is something masquerade-like about her and Octavian’s relationship. As Act I reveals, she knows this, although she vacillates between feeling it and hiding it from herself; her anguish in Act III is not the result of surprise, but rather the developing knowledge that the thing she knew would happen is happening now. At one point the character looks hand-to-stomach sick at the shock and pain of going through this and has to sit down – this is something I have noticed again and again with Röschmann’s performances: she communicates so intensely the physicality of the emotions her character experiences.
So. If I were a DVD-making sort of person, I would cobble together Act I from Tuesday, Act III from Friday and it’s kind of a toss-up for Act II. Either way, I had an awfully good time listening to this.