Another Opernfestspiele review is up—this time of Arabella. Strauss isn’t my favorite, and this is not even his best opera, but I still enjoyed it a lot. The staging of the final scene was absolutely perfect. And Anja (our Arabella) is a goddess.
Yesterday in Stuttgart, I saw Der Rosenkavalier for the first time. It was very confusing. Musically, it was my favorite Richard Strauss opera so far, but Herheim’s very psychological production was probably not the best choice for the previously uninitiated. I’m not even going to try to make this a proper review—that would imply that I had some clue what was going on. I didn’t. Even the (in retrospect) most obvious part of the conceit—that the entire opera was happening inside the Marschallin’s dress—wasn’t clear to me until some kind Twitter opera-goers answered my plea for help. Intermezzo has the best description and analysis of the production I could find, so read that post if you want an understandable account of what I saw. (And go there regardless for more photos!) What follows will be extremely speculative.
As the dress setting (which we were really hit over the head with; I’m kind of embarrassed not have grasped that sooner, on my own) implies, this whole production is a sensual fantasy of the Marschallin’s. You get the sense that it’s a regretful fantasy—Sophie (whose costumes match hers) is her younger self, whom she wishes an Octavian had rescued from a marriage of convenience, just as he ultimately rescues Sophie. And “rescue” is the right word: to emphasize the drama of salvation, Octavian fights off a herd of lustful satyrs who attack the Marschallin in the overture. The satyrs will be back, though, as the attendants of Baron Ochs (and sometimes also the Marschallin). I’m still fuzzy about exactly what function they’re fulfilling; traditionally, satyrs onstage underscored (and allowed for) the nobility of the other characters because they were the separately embodied base aspects of human nature. Here, they (with in-your-face rubber genitals always hanging out) seem to merely contribute to a world that is full of debauchery and cupidity wherever you look.
Other animals appear, too, as predictable instantiations of various characters’ personalities. There’s even an ostrich (Strauss) to represent the composer. Ochs nearly strangles him, trying to prevent the end of the opera in which youth and innocence triumph (and the satyrs retreat). But, of course, the opera must end. The Marschallin (who is also Europe) descends from the skies, wielding the opera’s famed silver rose as a magic wand with which she sets all to rights. At one point, Pan (who is on the also-horned-like-an-ox Baron Ochs’s side) steals the rose, replaces it with a version he has made from the shards of the Marschallin’s smashed mirror, and hands it to Ochs. It seems like debauchery might triumph. But Ochs has been discouraged by his recent humiliation. He smashes the rose and shoots off the stage in a shower of sparks. Octavian and Sophie help the crying Pan gather up the pieces of the rose, and Octavian tosses them into the skies to form the stars. He and Sophie sing their final duet in a beautiful, starry dreamscape, while the Marschallin and Faninal comment from the side boxes of the opera house (where they sit wearing modern opera-going outfits) that youth is thus. Pan upstages the ending by eating a remaining shard of broken glass and dying bloodily. Presumably, this is Herheim’s rather tasteless comment on the opera’s outcome. Continue reading A Strauss opera in a dress?
Everyone keeps telling me that if I’m going to fall in love with Strauss, it will be at Salome or Rosenkavalier. Of course, I keep ending up at Ariadne and Schweigsame Frau and Frau ohne Schatten instead. The last one (translatable as “the woman without a shadow”) is what I saw for this first time (barring studying a recording) on Saturday. My review is here. (It even includes a plot summary, if you’re wondering about the opera’s strange name.) I’m not in love with Strauss yet, but I was still thoroughly impressed by the singers, conductor, and instrumentalists.
When I was looking at the Munich theatre calendar a few weeks ago, I had a brilliant idea. Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau was playing at the Staatsoper. At the same time, a new play called Das schweigende Mädchen was playing at the Kammerspiele. While these probably didn’t have much to do with each other other than the titles, wouldn’t it be fun to see them both and write a joint review?
As it turns out, my brilliant idea was not so brilliant, because I have no clue what happened in Das schweigende Mädchen. It was an unstaged reading, and the lack of stage action made it difficult for me to follow the plot (and also nearly put me to sleep). It doesn’t really help that this contemporary piece was about the NSU trials, which I hadn’t heard of and knew nothing about. It drew parallels (or rather, opposites?) between the trials and the Bible, and the eponymous girl was sometimes the virgin Mary. The characters seemed to be a judge, three angels, Jesus Christ, and two prophets (or maybe they were the same person—they were identically dressed and mimicked each other’s gestures). There was a bit about cats going to heaven. And that is literally everything I can tell you about this play.