Today or Tomorrow: Der Rosenkavalier from De Munt – La Monnaie

Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier

Die Feldmarschallin – Julia Kleiter
Der Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau – Martin Winkler
Octavian – Julie Boulianne
Herr von Faninal – Dietrich Henschel
Sophie – Liv Redpath
Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin – Sabine Hogrefe
Valzacchi – Yves Saelens
Annina – Carole Wilson
Ein Polizeikommissar / Ein Notar – Alexander Vassiliev
Der Haushofmeister bei der Feldmarschallin /  Der Haushofmeister bei Faninal – Maxime Melnik
Ein Wirt – Denzil Delaere
Ein Sänger – Juan Francisco Gatell
Drei adelige Waisen / Kinder – Annelies Kerstens, Marta Beretta, Marie Virot
Eine Modistin / Ein Kind – Lisa Willems
Ein Tierhändler / Ein Kind – Alain-Pierre Wingelinckx

Kinder- en jeugdkoren van de Munt, Koor van de Munt, Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie / Alain Altinoglu.
Stage director – Damiano Michieletto.   

De Munt – La Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium.  Saturday, November 4th, 2022.

This new production, by Damiano Michieletto, of Der Rosenkavalier at La Monnaie – De Munt was to have opened in spring 2020 – but we all know what intervened back then.  A co-production with Vilnius and Bologna, it was eventually premiered in the Lithuanian capital, and can now finally be seen in the house on the Muntplein.  As often at this address, the show was double cast and tonight I saw the alternative cast to that of the Brussels premiere a few days ago.  What both casts have in common is the casting of a Québécoise mezzo in the role of Octavian – Michèle Losier in the premiere cast and Julie Boulianne in tonight’s – a testament to the extraordinary wealth of vocal talent that we have in la belle province

Photo: © Baus

So often when we talk about Der Rosenkavalier, our first thoughts tend not to be of the titular character but instead of the Marschallin, someone who appears only in Act 1 and towards the end of Act 3.  Michieletto actually makes the Marschallin the centre of his staging.  We see not only her present-day self, but also see actors incarnate the Marschallin as a young girl, a young woman, and also as an old lady confined to a wheelchair.  In doing so, Michieletto really brings home to us the idea of the passage of time.  So often, the use of actors/doubles can be distracting.  Yet, here, it genuinely adds something to the story and makes us reflect not only, on how the Marschallin got to her affair with Octavian, but also of her innate goodness as a person and her desire for happiness – and to make others happy.  For instance, we see a double of the Marschallin, welcoming the Feldmarschall home, who promptly ignores her, depriving her of the love she thought her marriage would give her.  Similarly, as the Italian tenor sings his song, he sings it to an aged Marschallin, sitting in a wheelchair, holding and staring at a rose, as if desperately attempting to remember a time when she was truly happy.  Rather than disappearing, for the subsequent acts, the Marschallin instead reappears – helping Octavian out by handing the conspirators the letter to invite Ochs to dinner, or helping Octavian dress up as Mariandel.  We see her also, desperately attempting to catch some falling snow in a glass, as if trying to capture a moment she knows is fleeting.  The moment, at the end of the trio, when Kleiter’s Marschallin begins to follow Octavian just one last time and then realizes the futility of it, quite literally finished me.  It was devastating.  Indeed, I felt like I had to find a quiet corner after Act 1 to sob uncontrollably, the combination of the insightful staging and Kleiter’s overwhelming performance was just so moving.  Michieletto achieves what all great directors manage to do: he makes us feel and empathize with the characters, taking us on our own emotional journey, into loss, into reflecting on the passage of time, and of wanting to hold on to the happiness of a moment we know is finite, but just wish would last forever. 

Photo: © Baus

Of course, Michieletto’s staging isn’t just about the waterworks – he gives us plenty of comedy also.  Not least in Act 2, where Sabine Hogrefe’s Leitmetzerin vamps it up terrifically, as she enjoys the attention not only from Ochs’ entourage, but also from Ochs himself.  Or the stuffed dead birds that fall from the sky to alarm Ochs during his assignation with Mariandel.  There’s also a simplicity to the stage pictures (sets by Paolo Fantin) based on clean lines and a mise en abyme that shows how all the events of the life of the Marschallin have fed into this one moment. 

Photo: © Baus

Kleiter gave us a glorious Marschallin.  This is her debut run of the role and she really is already a magnificent exponent of this iconic part.  She’s a glamorous stage presence, as costumed here by Agostino Cavalca, holding the stage both vocally and physically.  She brought out so much beauty in the text, using the tone intelligently, both in using a wide palette of tone colours and in her intelligent use of vocal vibrato – not least in the richness that she brought out at the bottom.  The technique is exquisite, allowing her to float her ‘silberne Ros’n’ with silvery ease.  She found devastation and regret in the way she pulled the tone back to a thread as she recalls stopping the clocks, and she launched the trio by focusing the tone and allowing it to take wing with radiance, capping the textures with humanity.  The way she sang ‘heut’ oder morgen’, finding determination yet sadness, will stay with me for a very long time.  Above all, there was this wonderful sense of watching an artist incarnate a role she was born to sing. 

Photo: © Baus

Boulianne gave us an Octavian that was sung in her nicely rounded, claret-toned mezzo.  The tessitura of the part held no terrors for her, soaring with ease even at the end of a very long evening.  It did take Boulianne a little while the find her groove – initially she had a tendency to be slightly under the note, but she warmed up nicely as the evening developed.  Her Octavian was fabulously vocalized but, I regret to say, the impact of her singing was restricted by the clarity of her diction.  While she had done well to internalize the reams of text of this part, words were far too often indistinct, singing over the text rather than with it.  Unfortunately, in a piece such as this, text really does matter and while Kleiter’s Marschallin was even more moving because of the truth she found in the text, unfortunately Boulianne’s Octavian left me rather cold simply because the words were so unclear, and this despite the excellence of her vocalism. 

Photo: © Baus

The same could be said for Liv Redpath’s Sophie.  Redpath is the owner of an attractive soprano with a warm middle and an ability to float the tone nicely on top.  The tone does tend to lose a little colour the higher up it goes however, becoming rather chalky at the very top.  She had also clearly internalized the part, but I longed for her to do more with the text, to use it as a starting point for her character.  Martin Winkler was a deliciously outsized Ochs, booming ostentatiously.  His isn’t the most handsome bass to have essayed the music, the tone can be a bit wiry and grainy, but he has the low D.  The text was always clear, though for an Austrian singer, I was surprised by how little he brought out those typically Viennese diphthongs.  They were there, but not exaggerated. 

Photo: © Baus

The remainder of the cast reflected the excellent standards one has come to expect in this house.  Dietrich Henschel blustered effectively as Faninal, even if his baritone has now dried out somewhat.  Juan Francisco Gatell was luxury casting as the Italian Singer, dispatching his arioso with passion and an easy top.  Hogrefe was a deliciously game Leitmetzerin, dispatching her music in a ripe soprano, able to rise over the surging textures.  As the conspirators, Yves Saelens sang Valzacchi in a surprisingly burly tenor, while Carole Wilson displayed verbal acuity and a vibrant mezzo as Annina.  Even in the smallest of roles, the quality of the voices was undeniable – not least in Maxime Melnik’s light, easily-produced tenor in his roles, or Denzil Delaere’s fuller, handsomely-toned tenor as the Wirt. 

Photo: © Baus

Underpinning the evening was Alain Altinoglu and his magnificent orchestra, once again proving that this house has one of the finest opera orchestras in the world currently.  There was so much detail brought out in Altinoglu’s reading, the flashes of motifs running as threads throughout the work in a way I’d never noticed before, and the ability to bring to life the quicksilver changes of mood that occur throughout the work.  Yes, if I had to be churlish, a very few of the tempo transitions were a little bit bumpy, for example in the lead in to the Presentation of the Rose, and I’d have preferred the trio to have been a notch quicker – but not by much, at least it didn’t become a funereal dirge as it often does, and it was beautifully sustained by the three singers.  The strings were capable not only of gossamer lightness, but also of a deep-pile carpet of sound.  The principal trumpet played with plangently characterful tone, while the oboe found sheer poetry in the music.  The horns whooped splendidly through the textures.  Altinoglu’s tempi were generally swift, but he felt able to pull back, particularly in Act 1 as he let Kleiter through, using the strings to colour the loneliness within.  The energy of the burgeoning waltzes was undeniably addictive.  The choruses, sang with enthusiasm in their brief interjections.

Photo: © Baus

This was one of those evenings that left one completely moved, once again in awe of the power of this art form to tell a story and to move its spectator profoundly.  Michieletto’s staging is the work of someone who understands the human condition deeply, and is able to pull his audience in and make them feel.  There was so much to enjoy in the singing, even if it could have had even more impact had the diction from two of the principals been much clearer.  What will stay with me from tonight, though, is Kleiter’s glorious Marschallin, who moved me so much, and Altinoglu and his fabulous orchestra, making this magical score live.  With the passage of time, tonight will also become a memory, but I have no doubt it will remain a very potent one.  Fortunately, the show will be broadcast online via Operavision on November 16th and available until May 2023.  If you can get to Brussels, however, run for a ticket. 

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