The Met is currently reviving one of the oldest productions in its repertoire, Nathaniel Merrill’s 1969 staging of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. This revival is wonderfully sung, and Robert O’Hearn’s sets and costumes remain a lush evocation of 18th Century Vienna. The Met has announced that it this is the last time it will present this staging, with plans to open an entirely new production of Der Rosenkavalier in 2016 (can I direct it, please?). It’s a good decision: There are certainly plenty of things about Merrill’s staging that haven’t aged at all well.
But, positives first: The singing in this revival is uniformly excellent. Best of all is Viennese soprano Martina Serafin as the Marschallin, a married princess with a young lover. Serafin’s singing is luscious, oh-so-expressive, just heavenly. That young lover, Octavian, is played by Alice Coote (it’s a crossdressed, or “trouser”, soprano role), whose singing was easily one of the best things in this season’s big Met premiere, Two Boys. She sings beautifully here as well, and when she and Serafin sing together, it’s gooseflesh-inducing.
In Act II, Octavian all but forgets about the Marschallin when he lays his eyes on the more age appropriate Sophie Von Faninal (Erin Morley). The three of them share a musically and emotionally complex trio in Act III, in which they blend really gorgeously.
Merrill’s staging is workmanlike, but there’s a lot of (supposedly) funny bits for members of the chorus that are, by today’s standards, hopelessly corny. Also, two of the best known moments in the music, “The Presentation of the Rose” and the “Mit Mir” waltz, are barely acknowledged in the staging, and certainly not presented in any powerful way. So, bring on the new staging, but bring back this marvelous cast.
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