lietofinelondon

Aria for … Thursday – Marie Theres! … Hab’ mir’s gelobt

In Aria For ..., Opera, Richard Strauss on June 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

Belatedly, my own celebration of Richard Strauss’ birthday (June 11 1864).

A deliberate but obvious choice.

The trio from Der Rosenkavalier.

I think it is the most beautiful moment in all of Strauss’ music. While I admit to bias as it is my favourite of all his operas, I also seem to remember reading that it was sung at his funeral at his request.

And here, sung by Renée Fleming, Susan Graham and Barbara Bonney, it is perfection.

The overlapping counterpoint of the three voices after the Marschallin’s initial opening phrase – itself so full of regret – builds inexorably towards what can only be described as a most amazing wall of sound before it recedes for the duet for Octavian and Sophie.

It’s so tempting just to sit back and just wallow in the glorious music that Strauss wrote for this trio. But while the music is sublime it always raises in my mind the ‘what if’?

With its resplendent horn scoring as the voices soar higher and higher, it seems the older aristocrat seemingly accepts her fate with ‘…als wie halt Manner das Gliicklichsein verstehen. In Gottes Namen’.

But does she? After many years and many, many performances I have come to the conclusion that – for me – the entire opera hinges on two words.

Just two words.

After the duet between the two young lovers the Marschallin returns with Faninal. As they spy Octavian and Sophie he comments ‘Sind halt aso, die jungen Leut’!’. To which Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg replies ‘Ja, ja’.

How those words are delivered, almost spoken, is critical. They define the Marschallin herself.

This might seem like a gross over simplification and don’t get me wrong, Der Rosenkavalier is the most magnificent opera in every sense of the word.

But for me throughout the opera it has been the Marschallin who has pulled the strings. Perhaps Octavian’s newfound love has always been on her terms from the start? She entered into the plot right at the beginning when she suggested Rofrano as the Rosenkavalier. It’s not too far a supposition to suggest that she would know of – if not met – Faninal. And therefore knows he was seeking a husband for his daughter.

And doesn’t the music of the returning duet hint at a less than happy ending for the couple with the almost bittersweet piquancy of the descending motif in the flutes?

Perhaps in Sophie the Marschallin sees her younger self? Perhaps she is simply replaying a scene that happened to her in her own youth?

History repeating itself.

And each and every time, it is at precisely at that moment that I hear myself catch my breath. Most productions play this trio very traditionally, rarely finding the balance between the young lovers and the actual closing moments of the opera.

But the production tat sticks most in my mind as it seemed to hint at that very point was at Cologne Opera. It was the production where Kiri Te Kanawa decided to perform on stage for the last time in this. As one of her signature roles it couldn’t be missed. The production itself was a mish-mash of ideas but at the then it wasn’t her page that returned to pick up the handerkerchief.

It was the Marshallin – rushing back to retrieve this token in an almost desperate manner as the music finished and the curtain fell.

I think Strauss and Hoffmansthal would have approved.

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