Soprano phenom Lise Davidsen—she of the thrilling fortissimos—is now at the Metropolitan Opera in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, taking on the coveted role of the Marschallin, a young matron in aristocratic 18th-century Vienna. Gripped by time’s imprint on everything fleshly and material, she slowly realizes that she must allow her young lover to pursue the girl he’s saved from a loveless arranged marriage. Davidsen’s debut in the role manifests a virtuoso dynamic range that moves from the most intimate of reflective monologues to the most searing full-throated confession.
Robert Carsen’s production brings the opera forward in time to 1911, the actual year that Der Rosenkavalier received its world premiere. While Europe is heading toward World War (and the end of the Belle Époque), Davidsen’s Marschallin is ensconced in the ancestral splendor of a Baroque palace. Time becomes the subject of the décor as well as the music.
See it before Ron DeSantis closes it down. Der Rosenkavalier perpetuates the en travesti tradition that has existed since classical Athens. The Marschallin’s randy young lover, Octavian, is sung by the mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey. His new beloved, Sophie, is soprano Erin Morley. Both she and Hankey are equipped with all that’s needed to provide equally weighted triangle points to Davidsen’s doyenne.
If the Marschallin represents aristocracy at its most refined, her provincial cousin Baron Ochs, to whom Sophie is betrothed, is an avatar of boorish entitlement. Bass Günther Groissböck makes the man younger, no less crass, but more virile than normally portrayed.
Enjoy the way that Strauss shuffles time in his score. There are 19th-century waltzes galore in this 18th-century setting, as well as splintered melodies and harmonics that could only belong to the 20th century. Speech and song are straddled: at times the score is a Babel of babble, in which conductor Simone Young allows all roles, big and small, to make themselves heard.
Now 36, Davidsen could and undoubtedly will spend years exploring the Marschallin’s interpretative subtleties of words, music, and movement. In Act Three, she realizes that time has pursued its inexorable path and she too must move on. The very tall Davidsen, sheathed in a columnar black beaded evening gown, remains resolutely straight-backed, but nonetheless wounded.
Der Rosenkavalier is on at the Metropolitan Opera, in New York City, today and April 20
Joel Lobenthal is a historian and cultural critic who has written books on subjects ranging from Tallulah Bankhead to Yuri Soloviev, Patricia Wilde to 60s fashion