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Opera Company of Boston's sublime, sumptuous Der Rosenkavalier

DER ROSENKAVALIER

By Richard Strauss.

Opera Company of Boston,

Conducted by William Fred Scott

Staged by Lisi Oliver.

Scenery by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond.

The Opera House,

Washington St., Boston.

April 13 at 8 pm; April 16 & 23 at 3 pm.

Rush tickets may be available for $15 with student ID from 2 pm on April 23.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

"H OW COME OCHS gets such wonderful music?" I asked Opera Company of Boston Artistic Director Sarah Caldwell, who was for once enjoying the opera from a seat in the house, rather than conducting the proceedings in the pit and on the stage. "It's all he gets," replied Caldwell of the ungainly lecher, whose advances only lead to ever more humiliating embarrassments and failure in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. But Strauss's music is no booby prize, especially when played by the Opera Company orchestra.

This is a Rosenkavalier worth seeing: The singing of Gwyneth Jones as the Marschallin and Jeanne Ommerle as Sophie is ravishing; the buffoonery of William Wildermann as Baron Ochs is hilarious; the staging by Lisi Oliver touches the deeper moments as well as the comic; the orchestra's performance of Strauss's sublime music under William Fred Scott is sumptuous. And if you have a student ID you can attend the final performance this coming Sunday at 3 pm for only $15 (subject to rush availability from 2 pm onwards).

The first Act is slow getting off the ground. On opening night last Thursday, William Scott allowed his strings to doze a bit before the first intermission, and the action on stage took a while to heat up, too. There were, nonetheless, many delectable and amusing moments during this Act: Ochs' attempts to flirt with the maid "Mariandel" (really Octavian in disguise -- yes, Strauss has a female singer act a man who dresses up as a woman); the affecting lyrical singing of Ma si caro `e il mio tormento by Tonio di Paolo; and, most riveting, the sad, lonely singing of the Marschallin (Gwyneth Jones) at Act's end.

The presentation of the rose by Delia Wallis as Octavian in Act II was magically done; the famous Rosenkavalier waltz was played with a heady sensuality by the orchestra; Jeanne Ommerle was in sweet voice for her singing of the part of Sophie; and her interaction with the Ochs of William Wildermann was especially well-managed.

The staging of the final Act emphasized every element of the comic, but its conclusion was touching. The sequence of events during which Ochs believes he can seduce "Mariandel" (Octavian out to dupe Ochs some more), is brought off with a delicious wit. The room at the inn -- with its heads popping out of concealed panels -- is nicely designed by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond. Delia Wallis acts just as well as she sings, while Wildermann is riotously funny as the terrorized Ochs. His voice is strong, but he is also adept at extracting the maximum humor from his lines.

I loved the scene where Anina (Jan Curtis), an accomplice in the fooling of Ochs, turns up with a bunch of brattish children she claims are Ochs'.

Gwyneth Jones (who will be replaced at the final performance on Sunday by Kay Griffel) put in her most glorious singing towards the opera's conclusion, as the Marschallin acknowledges that she has lost her young lover, Octavian. The scene with Jones, Ommerle and Wallis was very powerful: after all the humor, it seemed to be able to touch the deepest emotions all the more profoundly, as well as evoke the finest singing of the evening.