At the Munich Opera, When the Marschallin Cancels an Empress Takes her Place

GermanyGermany Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Bayerische Staatsorchester / Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 11.2.2017. (JMI)

Der Rosenkavalier © W Hösl

Marschallin – Anja Harteros
Octavian – Angela Brower
Baron Ochs – Günther Groissböck
Sophie – Golda Schultz
Faninal – Markus Eiche
Italian Singer – Andrej Dunaev
Valzacchi – Ulrich Ress
Annina – Heike Grötzinger
Police – Peter Lobert
Marianne – Christianne Kohl

DirectionOtto Schenk (original), Bettina Göschl (revival)
Sets and Costumes – Jürgen Rose

There is no doubt that the Munich Opera is one of the most important companies in the world, if not the best of them all. Several times each year there are important productions over a few days that justify a special visit to the Bavarian capital. On this occasion, in three days one could attend Rosenkavalier with Kirill Petrenko in the pit, a new production of Semiramide with Joyce DiDonato and an Elektra with Nina Stemme as the daughter of Agamemnon. How one can resist!

It has been said that the status of an opera house is shown in its substitutions. This was surely the case in Munich, where I arrived at the box office to pick up my tickets and found an announcement of Anne Schwanewilms’ cancellation as Marschallin. Her substitute was to be Anja Harteros: in this case, when the Marschallin cancels, an Empress takes her place. I confess I had to re-read the notice because I couldn’t believe my eyes.

As if this were not appealing enough, in the Nationaltheater pit was the musical director of the Bayerische Staatsoper, Kirill Petrenko, one of the few conductors who justifies any visit to an opera house: you can be sure that it will be a special occasion. Once again, his conducting was magnificent, particularly in the last act where he reached an unforgettable level of performance. His tempi were as vivid as usual, and practically the same as when I saw him conduct this opera last July. If I was not enthusiastic then about his accompaniment in the Act I love scene between the Marschallin and Octavian, this time he was fully convincing. From the Monologue of the Marschallin on, his reading was just glorious. Perhaps the least successful passages came in the second act, once past the impressive Presentation of the Rose that he offered. The Bayerische Staatsorchester is always splendid, but under his baton they were truly exceptional.

At the top of the cast, although this isn’t the character that gives title to the opera, I must place the Marschallin, Anja Harteros. Not only is she the best today in the role (and I think I’ve seen all the important Marschallins), she can be ranked with the best in history, even though living artists are often unfavourably compared to those in the past. It’s simply not possible for anyone to sing better than Anja Harteros in this character. From the first time I saw her Marschallin (more than five years ago), I was impressed by her interpretation, and I remain so. I advise everyone not to miss the opportunity to hear her, if at all possible.

Octavian was persuasively interpreted by American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower, who has been part of the Bayerische Staatsoper for almost six years and is having a very promising career. She’s a remarkable singer with a fresh, attractive, well-handled voice, and she knows perfectly how to convey expression in her singing.

Günther Groissböck repeated in the part of Ochs. I still struggle with the memory of those who have preceded him in the character in recent years: Kurt Moll, Kurt Rydl and Peter Rose. All three were more mature than Groissböck and with true bass voices. Gunther Groissböck is much younger than what we are used to in the character, is more bass-baritone than true bass, and lacks sonority in the lower notes.

It was announced that Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, who was an excellent Sophie in the July Festival, was being replaced by South African Golda Schultz, another example of a perfect substitution. Ms. Schultz was magnificent in every way, with a beautiful voice that has more body than what is usual in the character. She offered large amounts of quality, musicality and good taste throughout.

Baritone Markus Eiche was an impeccable Faninal, well suited to the character. As the Italian Singer, Andrej Dunaev had a pleasing voice but was not as elegant as required in the beautiful aria of Act I.

The secondary roles were perfectly covered in all cases. The Italian intriguers were again Ulrich Ress (Valzacchi) and Heike Grötzinger (Annina). Peter Lobert was a sonorous police inspector, and Christianne Kohl was also good in the part of Marianne.

Once again we had the opportunity to enjoy Otto Schenk’s beautiful production, which is now 45 years old. Here’s what I wrote about it earlier: review

The theatre was sold out and the audience was extremely enthusiastic at the final bows: the cheers went on for about 15 minutes.

José M. Irurzun 

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