Date: April 19, 2011
Conductor: Andrew Davis
Production: John Cox, with no intermission
Location: The Metropolitan Opera, New York.
Two changes were made to this season’s revival of Strauss’s final opera: a simpler set, and the jettisoning of the intermission. Mauro Pagano’s 18th century rococo set, first created for the Met in the late 90s, was face-lifted to reflect a more practical society in the early 20th century. The opulent and florid ornamentations gave way to a simpler design that put focus squarely on the actors on stage. Props were kept to a minimum, with three main areas providing vital functions to the flow of the libretto: the harpsichord/harp area, a lounge area featuring a set of Portugese canapes, and a large tuffet which the Countess used extensively in the final scene. By maximizing the usage of these areas, John Cox managed to deliver a fluid performance with no intermission, just as Strauss intended.
Renee Fleming was ebullient and dramatically very convincing as the Countess. Her voice and vocalism were sublime, while her dynamic range was controlled and flattering. She spent much of her final scene wrapped around the tuffet, as if seeking anchoring resolution to a storm of grave indecision. Her evening’s performance was nearly perfect, although that final scene was sung with smudges of choppiness that seemed to break apart rather than connect the beautiful phrasings of Strauss’s lines. Russell Braun delivered a confident Olivier with an aura of matter-of-fact inevitability. His dramatic counterpart, Joseph Kaiser, conveyed a sweet but serious Flamand. Kaiser exhibited a nurtured voice, and was dynamically a perfect match to Fleming’s Countess. Sarah Connolly’s Clairon demanded attention without looking overt or offensive, sort of a dramatic antithesis to Peter Rose’s La Roche – an obnoxious, towering figure who tried to suck up all the attention while behaving in the most overt and self-serving manner. In that respect, both singers played their role faithfully and convincingly. Barry Banks, as the Italian tenor, had a sweet, lyrical voice with a very secure upper line. His duet with Olga Makarina, as the Italian soprano, provided the comedic high point of the evening, as the two juggled for vocal and dramatic supremacy while effusing this unmistakably Tom-and-Jerry playfulness. The dancing by Laura Feig and Eric Otto was crisp and functional. Conductor Andrew Davis led a sumptuous orchestra and delivered the all-important Straussian chords towards the end with luscious warmth, though I found his pace at times slower than I would desire.
Costume designer Robert Perdziola made new costumes for Fleming: for her first entrance, she wore a blue gown instead of the dubiously shaded green gown worn in the season premiere. Heavy-handed camera equipment was also present – most probably rehearsing for the upcoming HD broadcast.