Review: 'Rosenkavalier' pure silver and gold

The star in the San Francisco Opera's summer run of “Der Rosenkavalier,” which opened Saturday, is Richard Strauss' music; higher compliment is difficult to come by. Under Donald Runnicles' direction, the orchestra played marvelously the complex, interwoven layers of music that constitute this nearly century-old score that has lost none of its modernity and power.

From sweeping waltzes to raucous injections, through shimmering passages and multi-layered sweeping melodies, Runnicles kept it all together and moving, in a straightforward, unaffected manner, and yet squeezing every drop of ecstasy from the music. Strauss can be more pretty or passionate or grand, but not more “right” than it was opening night.

The same can be said of the production, originally created by Lotfi Mansouri on sets by Thierry Bosquet (based on the original Alfred Roller design), directed simply and effectively by Sandra Bernhard, actually visible in Thomas J. Munn's lighting.

Onstage, the remarkable duo of Joyce DiDonato's Octavian and Kristinn Sigmundsson's Baron Ochs (who spend as much time together as those in the more, ahem, positive relationships) did remarkable work, both singing and acting. DiDonato's silvery voice, committed portrayal of a 17-year-old hero/troublemaker, and well-known comic timing held her in good stead. Sigmundsson was big, very big — in stature, in voice, in dominating the stage, but, especially, in not pushing or overwhelming.

For every dozen Ochs, regardless of voice, who overdo the part, there is just one like Sigmundsson, who underplays the role. He can afford it, this Icelandic giant with the voice to match, his whisper still hits the solar plexus on top of the second balcony.

The three female leads were well matched in voice and dramatic interaction. DiDonato's scene with Soile Isokoski's Marschallin in the first act; DiDonato's presentation of the rose, and her love duet with Miah Persson (Sophie); then the concluding Trio had impeccable balance.

The freshness in Persson's voice and the brilliance in Isokoski's were much appreciated. A minor complaints about Isokoski is that she doesn't fully realize the Strauss-Hofmannsthal transformation from an elegant, vibrant, (and oh, yes, unfaithful) aristocrat to a ordinary human being who becomes aware of her mortality. She has a sort of steady “nice” approach.

Still, in the final Trio — which was well, but not brilliantly, performed — Isokoski managed to bring to the forward the goodness of an “older woman” letting go of her younger lover, even helping to pair him with a contemporary, and “better chance for happiness.”

The large cast — including many Merola and Adler program participants — acquitted itself splendidly. Standouts were Catherine Cook's Anina, Robert McPherson's Italian Singer (good voice, not a particularly Italianate), and Heidi Melton's big-voiced Marianne, substituting for Elza van den Heever, who took the role of Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni”.

IF YOU GO

Der Rosenkavalier
Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. June 15, 19, 21 and 27; 1:30 p.m. June 24 and July 1

Tickets: $30 to $245

Contact: (415) 864-3330 or sfopera.com  

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

New audio of couple calling police on SF man bolsters racial bias claims, supe says

Pacific Heights incident spurred CAREN Act to outlaw discriminatory reports to police

SFUSD students may start the school year at home

Staff report recommends starting with distance learning in the fall, transitioning to hybrid model

Universities fight new immigration restrictions on international students in court

Local colleges are scrambling to keep international students in the country as… Continue reading

SF library plans to reopen with pickup and drop-off services

Since March, all 28 library locations in San Francisco have been closed… Continue reading

California releasing most prison inmates 12 weeks early to clear space amid coronavirus

California prisons will release inmates as early as 12 weeks ahead of… Continue reading

Most Read