It's hard to believe that yesterday's Met HD broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier was the first time I'd ever seen it performed (more or less) live. I've listened to it a bazillion times, watched at least one film version, and trawled YouTube for bits and pieces of it.* Accordingly, I'm going to go on at some length. Those of you who aren't here for the opera posts can skip this one.
- In some ways it feels almost too personal to talk about how much I love this opera in front of the internets. I'm not entirely sure why, but part of it is the fear of lapsing into what Terry Castle calls "that 'purple' quality which so often creeps into the literature of sapphic diva-worship."* And Der Rosenkavalier is the greatest Sapphic diva-worship opera ever, which is one of the many reasons why I love it so much.
- Ordinarily it's the Trio that makes me cry; this time it was the Marschallin's monologue in Act 1 and the scene with Octavian that follows. The heartbreaking thing about it isn't that she's sad about getting older, it's that she's trying to say something to Octavian about what it feels like to be aware of one's own mortality, and Octavian—who's only 17, after all—is just too young to hear what she's saying. They're two people on opposite sides of a hard-to-locate but definite dividing line, and so much of what they say to each other is miscommunication.
- When I first encountered this opera, at age mid-twenty-something, Octavian was the one I identified with. Now I'm older than the Marschallin, and even though I'm well aware that 32 (or 34) is not in the least ancient, I know what it feels like to have crossed that dividing line and to feel time tricking by faster than I used to think it would.
- This production made me notice something I'd never noticed before: in Act 3 when Octavian, in his Mariandel disguise, pretends to be drunk and maudlin, he performs what's basically a miniature, parodic version of the Marschallin's "Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding." I felt silly for noticing it only just now, but this production included a couple of bits of stage business that made the parallel clear: Octavian-as-Mariandel holds up a soup spoon and stares into it in the same way the Marschallin looks into her hand mirror, for example. I'm still pondering: does it mean that some of what she said has reached Octavian on some level after all? Or just that it's been baffling him and is therefore uppermost in his mind?
- Then again, I also only just recently noticed the way the orchestra anticipates the Marschallin's opening phrase in the Trio ("Hab mir's gelobt") just as Octavian-as-Mariandel starts to sing "Nein, nein, nein, nein, I trink' kein wein!" And it was brought to my attention by something I read or listened to...somewhere. I'd link to it if I could remember it.
- Renée Fleming brought some sharp edges to her performance that I wasn't quite expecting, especially at her first entrance in Act 3. She was letting us see how much of an effort it cost the Marschallin to let go of Octavian so gracefully. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that interpretation, but it intrigued me.
- I like Susan Graham, a lot, and I thought she and Renée Fleming played off each other beautifully. But I would kill to see Sarah Connolly's Octavian.
- I'd forgotten how funny the Baron Ochs bits can be. I confess to skipping over some of them when I'm listening at home, in my haste to get on with the soprano-fest. Kristinn Sigmundsson, whose Baron Ochs was so lecherous and self-satisfied as to be strangely adorable, got an especially warm round of applause at the curtain call.
- This bit of James Merrill's "Matinées" (the sonnet sequence from which this blog derives its title) is on my mind today:
—James Merrill, "Matinées," in Collected Poems (Knopf, 2001)
* In "In Praise of Brigitte Fassbaender," in The Apparitional Lesbian (Columbia UP, 1993).
** For your listening and viewing pleasure: Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Lucia Popp singing their hearts out in the final scene. What would I do without YouTube?