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18.2.06

Der Rosenkavalier in Chicago

Susan Graham, Anne Schwanewilms, Franz Hawlata, in Der Rosenkavalier, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2006, photograph by Robert KuselFew of Richard Strauss's operas are as likely to please audiences, even those who do not already worship Strauss like me, as Der Rosenkavalier, which is in production right now at Lyric Opera of Chicago (February 4 to March 11). The casting is pretty luscious, with Susan Graham as Octavian, Anne Schwanewilms as the Marschallin, Camilla Tilling as Sophie, and Franz Hawlata as Baron Ochs. John von Rhein was there to review (Lyric's 'Rosenkavalier' evokes shouts of approval, February 6) for the Chicago Tribune:

"Der Rosenkavalier" is one of those gifts that seem more precious because we can't have them very often. Lyric Opera mounts the bittersweet romantic comedy every decade and a half, on average. This makes Richard Strauss' most popular stage work a kind of Halley's comet in the affections of local opera lovers, who anticipate every sighting with an eagerness that borders on the irrational. Which helps to explain the great shout of approval that went up from the throng at the end of the season's long-awaited first "Rosenkavalier" Saturday night at the Civic Opera House. Every aspect of the production — singing, conducting, orchestral playing, stage direction, design — was superbly integrated and executed at the highest international level. This is a world of 18th Century Viennese imperial grandeur you would like to linger in forever, and a four-hour visit doesn't feel nearly long enough.
Graham's superiority as Octavian is well known, and Schwanewilms -- the singer who famously replaced Deborah Voigt because of a certain "little black dress" -- apparently made a very believable Marschallin. The production comes from San Francisco Opera, Bruce Donnell's attempted recreation of Alfred Roller's set for the opera's premiere in 1911. I also read a review ('Rosenkavalier' melds comedy, truth, February 6) by Wynne Delacoma for the Chicago Sun-Times:
Amid all the breakneck silliness, however, is the opera's heart-breaking emotional truth: the unalterable passage of time. The older, unhappily married Marschallin, sung by German soprano Anne Schwanewilms in her Lyric Opera debut, knows that her dalliance with 17-year-old Octavian will end, must end. Eventually, he will fall in love with a pretty young woman, as well he should. But knowing that truth and accepting it as right doesn't salve her pain at no longer being a pretty young woman sought out by handsome cavaliers. This is Schwanewilms' first staged outing as the aristocratic Marschallin, and she is still exploring its emotional depths. She has a lovely silvery soprano, strong enough to hold its own in the large Civic Opera House but with a soft edge that gives her Marschallin womanly warmth. Slim and graceful, she found a fine balance between self-awareness and imperiousness. This is not yet a Marschallin to entirely melt the heart, but Schwanewilms captivated the eye and ear, especially in her Act I monologue. Longing to freeze time in its tracks, she seemed to be having a quiet conversation with herself, a touching, poetic one, thanks to Hugo von Hofmannsthal's brilliant libretto. As she unfurled Strauss' long-lined, wistful phrases, as she compared time to a wind rustling against her face, we could almost feel that unsettling breeze ourselves.
For a nice picture, take a look at this blogger's post on the production.

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