Did you ever read those ‘choose your own adventure’ books as a child? The one that I remember the most was a story about children going back in time to the Triassic (or the Jurassic or the Cretaceous – somewhere in the Mesozoic, anyway) and having adventures. If you made a wrong choice over the course of the narrative, you ended up being eaten by dinosaurs.
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.
[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.
This DVD turned out to be a good idea. Both because it’s a very enjoyable performance, and also because watching this production made me realize a few things about Der Rosenkavalier that I hadn’t thought about before.
This is a production from Salzburg in 2004. The action has been moved up to the early twentieth century, probably the 1920s to guess from the costumes. I’m not sure what the production designers were going for with this. I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong about the concept – just that I’m not sure what if anything specific is communicated thereby. Certainly it makes the Marschallin’s religious language in Act I (and Sophie’s in Act II) jump out far more than it would in a production staged in the eighteenth century (which is what I think Strauss and Hofmannsthal originally imagined). But again, I’m not sure whether this is deliberate, or even important.
Act I takes place, of course, in the Marschallin’s room, which in this instance is a very boudoiry boudoir. The walls, covers and upholstery are all deep red, and there are two plates of what looks like half-eaten pie on the floor and the bench at the end of the Marschallin’s bed. We can all probably figure out what the pie is doing there.
I was listening to this CD this morning as I made my coffee. Specifically the last two tracks, which are both from Strauss’s Capriccio. The Mondschein music was my introduction to Strauss and I’ve always liked it (there are parts where he sounds like he’s waving at George Gershwin), even though the story of Capriccio is so contrived it sometimes makes me want to beat my head against the wall. Short version: words or music? What about if you’re a lady who likes men and each of these is represented by a reasonably attractive man? Then what? (Then again, I don’t really have a problem with things being contrived, so with Capriccio I don’t know why I mind so much. Maybe it’s because it verges into ‘cute’/’precious’ territory at times. I’ll have to go and listen to the whole thing again, I guess. And after all, it’s the music that’s the draw here, and the music is great.)
What I noticed today of all things was that huh, I can actually understand Fleming’s German fairly well. This is not because my German has improved since the last time I listened to this. I think it’s because Fleming is an American English speaker, and so am I, and thus she has the same accent in German that I do, and thus the ease of understanding. (Although no doubt, given that she is older and wiser than I, Fleming’s German accent is better than mine.)
It is analogous to something I experienced years ago in a research context. I was reading letters back and forth among a lot of seventeenth-century Jesuits. I will preface this with the statement that my Latin, to the extent that it exists — to the extent that it ever existed — is awful. I mean, execrably awful. And so I noticed that when I got to the letters written by English Jesuits – gosh, these were a lot quicker to translate. And it was because these Jesuits (being English, and perhaps in a hurry) were falling into English word order and sentence structure. They were, in other words, writing bad Latin. I was grateful.
Latin is a highly inflected language (seriously: you so much as bat an eyelid in Latin and someone is going to inflect something). English is not. Word order in English is very important, enough that if I say something like “Important is very word order” in English, most of my fellow Anglophones are still going to hear a ‘[noun] is very [adjective]’ sentence and wonder what is so very word order about important.
With Latin, in contrast, what with all the inflection, word order is . . well, word order in Latin is the word order of Satan Himself. Here is a graphical representation of Latin sentence structure.
But I like it.
First of all, this production reversed my opinion of Emily Magee. As some of you may know, I am prone to knee-jerk aesthetic judgements that are usually defensible but sometimes not. I made one of those about her, based on this production of Le Nozze di Figaro, which I own because . . . well, you can probably figure out why I own this. But anyway, the world’s best Countess she was not.
However. as Ariadne, she’s pretty damn good. In general, this whole thing is pretty damn good. The conceit works: the first section is one of those nowhere spaces with curtains in which we witness not only the order that the farce and the opera be performed simultaneously but also we learn that the prima donna and the composer were together, and when the composer kills himself, this is the switch to Ariadne abandoned on the island: the composer is Theseus. But the island is not an island; it’s a restaurant, where Ariadne/the prima donna is drowning her sorrows in red wine and, eventually, some pills. The whole thing works quite well if you imagine Ariadne is a little sloshed throughout. I mean, she expires in the arms of Bacchus at the end, right?
Zerbinetta (Elena Mosuc) is great and her entourage (let it be known that I hate that little tune they keep singing, and as a result the less of non-Zerbinetta part of the commedia dell’arte crowd the better) is endurable. In addition to her shoe, they make off with her bag and her underwear without much fuss from Z herself, which makes total sense: after all, wouldn’t Zerbinetta be the sort to say ‘eh, fuck it, I have more underwear’?
(I have to make sure not to write Zerlina when I mean Zerbinetta. Some similarities, though.)
And when Mosuc stops to bow at the end of (I think) “noch glaub’ ich” you cannot complain that it is breaking character: which character?
And the tenor/Bacchus: I approve. From what I understand, this role is wicked tricky as far as sounding good, and Roberto Sacca definitely manages that.
Minor complaint: too many close ups. I don’t mind watching Magee sing, but the first half or so of the ‘opera’ part of the opera borders on claustrophobic. Give the lady some space already.
Finally: whenever I see a production like this, I wonder how I would explain it to past opera-goers. I actually think that sophisticated audiences of Mozart’s day would be more into this sort of thing than, say, late 19th century ones would. The nineteenth century was so obsessed with making it REAL by making it BIG and making it LOUD and making it LIFELIKE that I think they often lost touch with the fact that sometimes fake and weird can be more real than ‘real’ often is, no?