Saturday night was Der Rosenkavalier's turn. It was extraordinary! One of the best performances I have ever attended! Memorable in all accounts, how many times does an opera-goer have a chance to say this? In the pit, Donald Runnicles led the orchestra, and this well-oiled ensemble has not sounded better. I was excited about going to see Runnicles conduct since I own a recording of the Parsifal that he recently led in Vienna in April of 2004. Runnicle's take on Wagner's last work rivals James Levine's reading when it comes to beauty of expression and expansive tempi. I was sitting on the side of the orchestra (M-35), and I must say that the side overhang reflected sound quite nicely without the flatness that tends to be the major complaint of the orchestra seats at the MET.
What a cast! Susan Graham's Octavian was a very likeable interpretation, her voice secure throughout her range. She is such a sensitive artist. The Marschallin was sung by Angela Denoke, who is making her debut at the MET this season. This German soprano is a rare find, and she conveyed both the beauty and the inherent sadness of the character perfectly. Sophie was endearingly portrayed by Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova. The scene in Act II where she rattles off Octavian's baptismal names was superb. Baron Ochs was Peter Rose, and about him all I can say is that I have so much admiration for any non-German (he was born in Canterbury) that can learn this vocally demanding role with its tricky rhythms, low E's, and generally talky and complex nature. He was superb, and a wonderful actor as well. His dismissal of the Italian tenor in Act I was brilliant (he clapped twice after the aria, and boorishly motioned him to go away). By the way, Matthew Polenzani was superb in his cameo as the Italian tenor. His fine instrument soared above the orchestra, having no problem whatsoever with the devilishly high tessitura that culminates in a high C-flat.
The rest of the large cast was also superb. The three noble orphans sang harmoniously, Annina and Valzacchi (Wendy White and Greg Fedderly) were deliciously oily, and Håkan Hagegård's Feninal was hilariously befuddled. It is captivating to see how this artist has mellowed since the days when he starred in Ingmar Bergman's film of Mozart's The Magic Flute.
On the other hand, it is sad to report that Paul Plishka's voice has not weathered the test of time as well. Now in the sunset of his career, he was quite wobbly throughout the small Act III role of the Police Commissary. There is a rumor that he was booed at the opening night performance, and has not taken a curtain call since. Last night, to the best of my recollection, he did not appear for a curtain call.
This revival of Der Rosenkavalier best exhibits the MET's ability to command the best singers in the world, and present performances the likes of which will rival and surpass those of any other opera house in the world. This kind of quasi-perfection happens very seldom, but when it does, it is beautiful and memorable.