At this afternoon's final San Francisco Opera "Der Rosenkavalier," there
were no stars, just fine contributions, and a joint effort to serve the
music. There are other ways to approach this work, but Donald Runnicles'
quiet, subtle, shimmering Strauss was as enchanting as if Schwarzkopf
and some of her greatest contemporaries populated the War Memorial stage.
With great singing stars, you get "numbers" and moments. In Runnicles'
execution, there was three and a half hours of spellbinding music -
a more than fair exchange. It was a mellow and romantic, but not
saccharine-sprinkled performance, the kind you don't ever want stop,
those long-lines just unfolding, shining, warming the heart. It was the
orchestra's "Rosenkavalier," the musicians playing superbly on this last
of a month-long marathon of performances, but - as in last night's "Don
Giovanni" - supporting the singers consistently.
Runnicles must share credit for this true ensemble performance with the
singers, that is, those who could have botched it all up for the sake
of individual glory. Great contributions of restraint, upholding the
priority of music, came from such principals as Joyce DiDonato, whose
Octavian adjusted generously (and effectively) to Martina Serafin's
pretty, thoughtful, even wise, and appealingly simple, but less than
(vocally) exceptional Marschallin; and Kristinn Sigmundsson's tremendous
Ochs, the Icelandic giant (with a voice to match) playing a nasty pussycat
- no, tomcat - instead of Golem-in-breeches, more indefatigably amorous
than just obnoxious, and not for a moment huffing or puffing or blowing
down the walls. His wishful waltz at the end of Act 2 was downright
In case of the wonderful Sophie, Miah Persson, it's hard to say if
what we heard was her real voice or the one adjusted for this toned-down
performance, but it didn't matter. Her interaction - dramatic and musical
- with DiDonato and Sigmundsson was joyously believable.
Only one cast member came close to breaking out of this
Runnicles-and-self-imposed mold of a "serene Rosenkavalier" - Adler
Fellow Heidi Melton (the goddess Diane in "Iphigenie en Tauride") took
the last-minute assignment of Marianne (when Elza van den Heever became
the post-dress Donna Anna), and she produced a duenna with Frederica von
Stade's charm and Birgit Nilsson's voice - if you can hold those two
ideas simultaneously. And yet, there is no criticism here: Melton too
held back, and fit into the production, it was just impossible not to
sit up and take notice of that powerful voice in a brief and minor role.
The permanent smile on the face of the listener this afternoon only
deepened upon observing the moment that will be remembered as "when
Melton sang Marianne."
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