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A Lavish and Lovely Der Rosenkavalier

San Diego
Civic Theater
04/03/2011 -  and 6, 9 12, April 2011
Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Twyla Robinson (The Marschallin), Anke Vondung (Octavian/Mariandel), Patrizia Ciofi (Sophie), Andrew Greenan (Baron Ochs), Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (Faninal), Helene Schneiderman (Annina), Joel Sorensen (Valzacchi), Stephen Costello (Italian Tenor), Stephanie Weiss (Marianne), John Duykers (Marschallin’s Major-Domo), Simeon Esper (Faninal’s Major-Domo and Innkeeper), Kevin Langan (Notary and Police Commissioner), Natalie Mann/Ana Baker Liss, Cherylyn Larson (Three Noble Orphans), Tiffany Carmel (Milliner), Manuel Paz Castillo (Animal Trainer), Andrew Bennett/Stephen Branch/Anthony Ballard/Michael Blinco (The Marschallin’s Footmen and Four Waiters), Matthew Roehl (Leopold), Francis Goonan (Mohamet)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Walter Huff (Acting Chorus Master), San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Christof Perick (Conductor)
Lotfi Mansouri (Director), Thierry Bosquet (Scenic and Costume Designer), Michael Whitfield (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer)

(© Ken Howard)

Having already shocked audiences with the early works of Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), Richard Strauss then wanted a change of pace by turning to comedy. Once again the Bavarian composer turned to collaborator Hugo von Hoffmansthal to write a libretto based on a mélange of characters derived from literature, opera and art. It took approximately eighteen months to complete which eventually premiered in Dresden, Germany on January 26, 1911. San Diego Opera commemorates the 100th anniversary of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier by staging this beloved opera, the second in their 2011 season.

On the surface, Der Rosenkavalier appears a rather light hearted piece, but under closer examination it is, undoubtedly, a complex work. Adding to its sophistication is the storyline’s integration of social classes that is pulled into a score filled with effervescent music. A repertoire favorite worldwide, many visionaries tinker with Strauss’ authentic time line to spark innovation and originality. Director Lotfi Mansouri, however, retains strict protocol by turning to Tierry Bosquet in creating a staging respectful to Alfred Roller’s original sets and costumes. The wardrobe of clothing does not skimp on texture, color or elaborateness. Similarly, the lavish sets ground a genuine mid 18th century feel despite a slightly two dimensional look.

After reading the personal quotations gleaned from the principal cast members, there’s no question the affinity and love these people have toward Der Rosenkavalier. The resultant can be seen through each individual’s character portrayal that abounds in profound energy, commitment and enthusiasm.

Ironically, the tripartite of lead female roles make their San Diego Opera debut. Additionally, Der Rosenkavalier would not be what it is without an exceptional Marschallin, Octavian, Sophie and Baron Ochs. Last minute replacement Twyla Robinson serves as an admirable yet vulnerable Marschallin, and she delivers a most delicate and sentimental soliloquy in Act I. German Anke Vondung’s tessitura is a good fit within Octavian’s and Mariandel’s vocal reaches. Her Octavian demonstrates a modicum of masculinity, and the interpretation of Mariandel is hilariously funny during the encounters with Baron Ochs.

(© Ken Howard)

With a heavy presence in Europe, it’s a special treat to have Patrizia Ciofi make her first time appearance at San Diego Opera in the role of Sophie. Ms. Ciofi is superb, and her top register shines without any harshness or grind when she hits the B flats in “Wie himmlische.” The ensuing duet with Octavian is sublime. Combined with the finesse stemming from Christof Perick’s orchestra, it is one of the most treasured moments in the opera.

Andrew Greenan’s accentuated antics as bumptious Baron Ochs adds the right amount of comical delight whether it be his lecherous greed for Mariandel or the ambitious desires for Faninal’s daughter. His acting is conservative with a tremendous comical flair, although some of his stage blocking occasionally appears a bit static, especially during the farce in Act III. That’s not his fault.

Joel Sorenson and Helene Schneiderman make a remarkable duo as the scheming Valzacchi and Annina. Their acting is closely linked to the music. Sorenson delivers the verbal complexities punctiliously meanwhile Schneiderman amusingly scoffs at Baron Ochs while mockingly dancing Strauss’ familiar waltz. The two are well suited in their assigned roles.

(© Ken Howard)

Steven Costello’s voice is top notch as the Italian tenor while Hans-Joachim Ketelson delivers some entertaining moments as Faninal. Meanwhile, San Diego-native Stephanie Weiss takes care in creating a colorful and excitable duenna, Marianne, and the bell-tinkling shuffles of Francis Goonan’s Mohamet brings a smile to everyone’s face during the opening and closing of Der Rosenkavalier.

Christof Perick’s orchestra is polished and successful in achieving a propitious balance between the stage and the pit. The decision to keep the curtain closed during the overture and the prelude to Act III enables the audience to focus on Strauss’ leitmotifs, forever present in both a direct manner and more a subtle format.

The sheer genius can be seen and heard in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. It is an opera which requires several revisits in order to attain a more profound understanding of the composer’s intentions. What better way to begin an introduction to this brilliant opera than to visit San Diego Opera. A well prepared and cohesive production, this merits five-stars.

Christie Grimstad



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