Seeing Rosenkavalier at the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden this December was a festive night at the opera, despite (or maybe because of) two jump-ins for major roles. One of them came all the way from Geneva that very morning since both the main cast and the secondary cast of the role of Baron Ochs (a major part) were sick. The audience were disappointed and nervous at first because of the cancellations, but that turned to enthusiasm when they realized that Wilhelm Schwinghammer was jumping in. The reason being was not just because it turned out that both jump-ins gave really excellent performances on stage, and of course the whole cast and orchestra were wonderful in this gorgeous opera house, but also because the audience felt like they were participating in something special. There were definitely some “Kenner” in the audience as they are called, real opera experts, but there were likely more people who just wanted to see a good performance, and really enjoyed themselves and responded to what was going on onstage. In many ways that’s the best thing about opera in Germany. The audience are true participants. There’s real communication between the stage/orchestra and the public. People can be entertained, elevated, thrilled or irritated and they’ll let you know it. Some will boo, some will cheer and some will slam doors on their way out but they’re all involved and on good nights, you really feel it from the stage. It can be an adventure with two major performers coming in at the last moment but everyone in the theater – whether it’s the Staatsoper or a small Landestheater – is fully present.
Thanks to the resources of the Staatsoper and the excellent cast we got even more. Der Rosenkavalier is at the same time a massive, complicated piece and an intimate chamber opera. It requires singers of extraordinary vocal and dramatic range who at the same time embody the most human of characters and this first rate cast delivered on all fronts. It’s all about sex, love and class, both social and innately human. The Marschallin, is at the center of it all making passionate love to begin the opera & machinating to protect young love as well as ruminating on her personal situation in a deeply human way. The trio at the end of the opera may be the most sublime in all opera, combining training sound in a unity of three contrasting monologues: young love, mature realization and young understanding. It takes a consummate performer to bring the Marschallin to fruition and Julia Kleiter has the voice and dramatic presence to realize this on a grand yet intimate scale. One couldn’t ask for a better voice than Maria Prudenskaya as Octavian. Sophie is often cast too light in regards for the need for a stunning high pianissimo, but Golda Schultz has this along with a strong voice and dramatic intention for the rest of the role, as well as really understandable German. Wilhelm Schwinghammer is one of todays foremost Baron Ochs and the audiences enthusiasm for his “Einspring” was amply rewarded. His cleverly & lewd Ochs, rather than stupidly crude Ochs, gave Kleiter’s Marschallin even more depth. They may even been the poles on which the opera centers. Schwinghammer drew his character expertly and also knew just how to take maximum advantage when Strauss gave him the stage on a plate at the end of Act II. A wonderful evening, but long, with two intermissions of twenty five minutes, it began at 5 PM and ended at quarter to 10, just in time to hit the Weihnachts Markt next door for a dinner of Spätzli with cheese and shaved truffles!