Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Name of the Rose

April 04, 2011

Anke Vondung an Patrizia Ciofi Photo: Ken Howard/SDO 2011

Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier is one of those operas that seems particularly impervious to broad directorial re-interpretation. Oh, I know there have been plenty of modern dress productions here, there, and everywhere in recent years, but there seems to be an attachment to the 18th-century Viennese grand halls and bedrooms that keep even some of the more adventurous opera companies (e.g., Munich) from going too far from the typical powdered wigs. Such is the case in San Diego where San Diego Opera opened a run of Der Rosenkavalier on Sunday in a familiar and much revived production designed by Thierry Bosquet and directed by Lotfi Mansouri on loan from the San Francisco Opera where it was last seen in 2007. Pulling off any opera production is no small task, and rarely do things ever arrive at opening night the way they start out on paper. This revival was originally announced with a particularly exciting cast including Ferruccio Furlanetto as Baron Ochs and Anja Harteros as the Marschallin in her role debut alongside the Octavian of Anke Vondung and Sophie of Partizia Ciofi both of whom were making their company debuts. Well by Sunday, both Furlanetto and Harteros were out, replaced respectively by Andrew Greenan and American soprano Twyla Robinson respectively. And given Robinson’s rather last minute recruitment into the ensemble, the show came off particularly well, showcasing some of Strauss’ most beautiful music and his deep love for the female voice.

Perhaps the most exciting singing in the whole show came from Ciofi who rarely performs in the U.S. despite being a beloved staple throughout much of Europe. I’ve heard her give particularly stirring turns as Gilda and Bellini’s Giullieta opposite the Romeo of Joyce DiDonato. She has a powerful voice with a clear, ringing top, which managed Strauss’ vocal workout with ease. Vondung who has also worked extensively in Europe, including many appearances in Dresden, was in lovely voice as well if she did sometimes get lost in the shuffle against orchestra and her duet and trio partners. I'm told that San Diego Opera is working actively to cast both vocalists again in upcoming seasons, which they would be wise to do based on this showing. Octavian relies in great measure on comic acting chops as well, which Vondung clearly excelled at. The third voice in Strauss' trio, Robinson, was solid in the upper part of her register and blended well with her colleagues although I found her voice to thinned out somewhat in the middle and lower reaches. Greenan’s Ochs was a funny buffoon, and could be heard easily except in the lowest part of his range.

Lotfi Mansouri firmly believes in giving his vocalists plenty of room to concentrate on their singing with little distracting stage business to compete. And while this is not an entirely bad thing, despite the pretty rooms the story takes place in, the action can stall and be rather inert much of the time. There's only so long one can stare at pretty furniture and room decorations. Christof Perick, music director of the Nürnberg Philharmonic and Opera, who was returning to San Diego, conducted the orchestra. He got some lovely detailed playing out of his musicians, although I often wished he had dug in for some broader dynamics particularly in Act I. But there are many good qualities to recommend the performance including two soloists you've likely not seen much of and should definitely see while you have a chance close to home. There are three more performances on April 6, 9, and 12 if you're inclined to spend several hours in a very beautiful old Vienna.


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