Don’t cry for Octavian, the 17-year-old hero of Der Rosenkavalier, though he hasn’t an aria to his name. Between duets, ensembles, and that time-stopping trio as the final curtain approaches, the young aristocrat—written for a woman’s voice—has no end of ravishing music to sing. And then there’s the stage business, which finds him juggling a worldly mistress twice his age, the ingénue he will marry, and a country Casanova who bumps into him in disguise as a chambermaid (it’s complicated).
Four short years from her win at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the American mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey bounces onstage like the soccer sensation Megan Rapinoe, whom she resembles, and proceeds to ensorcell with her champagne timbre, generous phrasing, and androgynous silhouette, not to forget the feather duster and flamingo strut her Octavian affects while in drag. That said, Marlis Petersen’s Marschallin (the opera’s Mrs. Robinson) and Katharina Konradi’s Sophie (newly sprung from the convent) have zero trouble matching her force of personality and vocal allure in ways of their own. The patsy Baron Ochs comes before us in the person of Christof Fischesser, a commanding basso whose inner Charlie Chaplin do-si-does around his inner W. C. Fields. Send in the clowns! The character is one you’d love to hate, but you won’t.
Samantha Hankey bounces onstage like the soccer sensation Megan Rapinoe, whom she resembles, and proceeds to ensorcell with her champagne timbre.
Filmed at its virtual premiere on March 21 before an empty house, this Rosenkavalier is the latest in a string of gilt-edged new productions mounted by Munich’s Bavarian State Opera during the pandemic, in anticipation of open doors in the future. Directed by Barrie Kosky, the show reaches its Neo-Rococo zenith at the top of Act Two with the arrival of Octavian’s coach, drawn by silver horses, their godly heads tossing under headdresses of snow-white plumage. The guys who play the hind legs must have been green with envy.
Vladimir Jurowski conducts with unflagging élan, opening substantial cuts almost never heard, even in recordings. As Richard Strauss, the annoyed composer, once observed, the opera feels shorter this way. Even more unusual, the symphonically conceived orchestral part is heard in an arrangement by Eberhard Kloke that mimics the chamber scoring of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, complete with piano, an instrument for which the full-Monty Rosenkavalier has no place. For the most part, Kloke’s handiwork passes unnoticed, but where it registers, it gleams and glisters like fairy dust from the master’s hand. Catch this unique magic while you can. It seems that the company went lite this time for the sake of social distancing in the pit. When the pandemic is over, expect a return of the full court press.
Der Rosenkavalier is available for streaming on the Bavarian State Opera’s Web site
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii