Otto Schenk’s production is by now a classic. Having premiered in 1972, it is one of the longest-running opera productions in the world. No wonder, then, that it is utter joy and delight for the spectator to watch.
If Jürgen Rose’s first and third act sets seem a bit old-fashioned now, the second act sets still get applauded when the curtain is raised. The sparkling glamorous house of the nouveau riche, the attention to detail – the china vases displayed to show wealth – breathe well-being and give a sense of lofty comfort. The third act setting is slightly unusual, looking suspiciously like a brothel rather than a shabby inn.
The beauty of Schenk’s staging is in the little things, such as the Marschallin’s rapt enjoyment of the Singer’s aria, as against Ochs’s irritated intolerance to the Singer’s proximity. The only bizarre moment is that in which Octavian hands the rose to Sophie, as they do not see each other. But when they do, however, there is magic in their eyes.
Musically, the performance was enthralling. Strauss’s massive orchestration felt like gossamer under Maestro Petrenko’s baton. The accompaniment – lyrical or impish – was always so soft as to allow the soloists to sing piano and use a multitude of colours and nuances.
Adrianne Pieczonka was the perfect choice for the role of the Marschallin – a complex character who voices proto-feminist concerns, who is profoundly philosophical (even if the opera is a badinerie), who meditates on time, and who is extremely kind, going to church and dining with an old uncle to alleviate his loneliness. Such a character needs a mature interpreter. Pieczonka’s voice is transparent, velvety and mellow, with a sonorous low register and she created a character that is real and endearing.
Angela Brower’s Octavian was boyish and loveable. Her Straussian style is flawless, even if her timbre seemed surprisingly soprano-like.
Ochs as interpreted by Peter Rose was greatly amusing, full of humour and just the right balance between churlish and aristocratic.
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller has crystal high notes and is as young and slender as required by Sophie’s role. She blended purity and sensuousness, being disconcertingly convincing when saying “I must be married before I can be anything”.
Lawrence Brownlee’s Italian tenor was lyrical and technical, with a beautifully conducted voice, but without a clear interpretation given to this small part, no ridicule, no tragic dimension – no personal touch.
The only weaker members of the cast were Markus Eiche as Faninal and Miranda Keys as the duenna, both singing with strained voices and no acting excellence.
But the mercurial quality of Kirill Petrenko’s magic wand, the poetry created by Otto Schenk’s superb decades-old staging, and the brilliance of all the principals turned this performance into a joy forever.
- By Richard Strauss
- Directed by Otto Schenk
- Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
- Cast includes: Adrianne Pieczonka, Peter Rose, Angela Brower, Markus Eiche, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Lawrence Brownlee
- Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
- Until 29 March 2018