"Der Rosenkavalier" is about age — and it is fitting that the revived production at the Vienna State Opera of this most beloved of Richard Strauss' operas bears its 43 years with insouciance.
The baroque stage settings and period costumes of this production by the legendary Otto Schenk have withstood the passage of time well. But much of the credit for the freshness of what is known in English as "The Knight of the Rose" has to go to the singers and orchestra.
In a performance Thursday, old hands like Kurt Rydl and Franz Grundheber mixed it up on stage with less-known performers to produce a richly woven vocal and instrumental tapestry of an old Vienna as it never was — but could have been.
This bittersweet comedy of errors stands or falls on the role of the Marschallin, the duchess who takes a lover less than half her age only to have him leave after meeting the young love of his life.
Strauss' Marschallin is in her 30s, and Anja Harteros barely looks old enough for the role. But she skillfully projects a woman in full bloom and in the middle of a passionate affair, who has started saying farewell to youth — and Octavian her lover — as she reluctantly counts down the years.
Harteros' soprano was eloquent, emotional — and like the Marschallin always controlled. Her soulful vocal soliloquy on the passage of time was one of the highlights of the evening.
Visually, Michaela Selinger was a perfect Octavian. Vocally, she occasionally struggled to make her mezzo be heard above the orchestra. Strauss scored this opera for 112 instruments — huge by most opera standards — and several times she was no match for the exuberance emanating from the pit.
Asked once by a critic why he was reluctant to conduct this opera, Strauss shrugged and said "because it is very difficult." But Peter Schneider made it sound easy, at the helm of an ensemble whose boisterous French horns and pleasingly dissonant violins delivered the full dose of Viennese musical charm.
As Ochs, Rydl had no trouble with the orchestra's volume — but then again he seldom does. His booming bass had the required depth for even the lowest registers. And his acting as the bumptious country nobleman who loses out to Octavian in the race for young Sophie's hand was phenomenal.
Chen Reiss's soprano was the perfect vehicle to depict Sophie's virginal innocence — although it was perhaps a bit too light for the more passionate passages. And Grundheber, as Faninal, played it perfectly straight — as he should have — to depict Sophie's father, a rich merchant with aspirations to the highest circles of society.
George Jahn can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/georgejahn