Der Rosenkavalier at Chicago Lyric Opera

Last night we heard Richard Strauss’s wonderful Der Rosenkavalier at Chicago Lyric Opera. This opera, arguably the greatest opera of the 20th century, with its three tremendous women’s roles, the Marshallin, Octavian (undoubtedly the greatest “trouser role” of the 20th century and possibly the greatest full stop), and the ingenue Sophie is unquestionably one of the finest showcases for soprano voice in the entire operatic repertory.

We weren’t disappointed. I have nothing but superlatives for Susan Graham’s performance of Octavian. Her look, acting, and singing were all flawless. I initially had reservations about Anne Schwanewilms’s portrayal of the Marshallin but by the affecting third act trio (with Octavian and Sophie) she had won me over completely. Despite the name of the opera (or its original name, Ochs von Lerchenau—for the boorish roué) the Marshallin is the heart of the opera and Schwanewilms’s performance captured both the conflicts and strengths of this multi-layered character. Camilla Tilling’s performance as Sophie combined a lovely voice and excellent portrayal of Sophie. Her spirited performance was a welcome departure from the conventional insipid ingenue.

The production (set, costumes, staging, and lighting) were handsome and appropriate. The picture above illustrates the presentation of the Silver Rose in Act II and, as you can see, the production captures beautifully an 18th century Vienna that never was but should have been.

This Vienna is given life in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s fabulous characters, Richard Strauss’s miraculous music, and Lyric’s wonderful production. It’s been more than 15 years since Der Rosenkavalier was produced at Lyric—far too long. If you’ve never seen Der Rosenkavalier, walk, run, swim, fly but get to this production. It may be a long time before you have another opportunity of this quality.

The season so far: Rigoletto, Der Rosenkavalier, La Cenerentola, The Magic Flute, Manon Lescaut, The Midsummer Marriage. Advantage: Rigoletto. Although it’s a close call.

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