Opéra de Paris – Bastille
Der Rosenkavalier – Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Philippe Jordan, conductor
Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra de Paris
Herbert Wernicke, Set Director
Michaela Kaune, Die Feldmarschallin
Peter Rose, Der Baron Ochs
Daniela Sindram, Octavian
Martin Gantner, Herr von Faninal
Erin Morley,  Sophie

I have witnessed terrible blunders at the Berlin Staatsoper (Carmen, for instance), at the Teatro Colón (a horrendous Onegin) and even at the Met (a tacky Magic Flute), but I have yet to see a bad production at the Opéra de Paris, either at Garnier or the Bastille.

I was simply dazzled by Strauss’s Capriccio in Robert Carsen’s lavish production at Garnier, and by wonderful performances of Onegin, Nozze (the superb Giorgio Strehler version), la Traviata, to name a few, at the Bastille.

The latest, which I saw a week ago, was the repertoire production of Der Rosenkavalier.

Der Rosenkavalier is, in Strauss’s own words, his homage to Mozart. He himself considers his work as a sort of sequel to Nozze. The quotes are obvious. The story involves, especially,  the Marschallin-Countess Almaviva, Octavian-Cherubino, Sophie-Barbarina, as well as the grotesque figure of the Baron Ochs-D.Bartolo. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, also the librettist of Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die ägyptische Helena and Arabella, is very different from Lorenzo da Ponte, but followed suit in writing a bittersweet as well as comical libretto which also echoes that of Nozze. The beautiful but maturing Marschallin must part from her much younger lover and witness his newfound happiness with Sophie, a girl his age. The distasteful Baron Ochs plans to marry the same young lady (this fact is more reminiscent of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, the prequel to Nozze). Octavian dresses like a maiden to trick Ochs, in the same manner that Susanna and the Countess  disguise Cherubino to lure Count Almaviva. Nevertheless, Der Rosenkavalier is quintessential Strauss, if not in the libretto, most certainly in Strauss’s characteristic orchestration with its unmistakable harmonies and timbres.

This Herbert Wernicke (1946-2002) 1997 production, therefore almost 20 years old, is as bold as it is splendid. The changes of scenery must require enormous technical resources but they are well worth the effort: the result is an action that moves perfectly in tune and in time with the music. Just as in Carsen’s Capriccio, and even more so, there is an extensive use of mirrors which reflect the sets and the singers from every side. The mirrors open and close to reveal the different décors of the opera, in a lavish ballet of shapes and colors. The Marschallin’s quarters are strikingly modern, rather art déco.

Faninal’s house is luxuriously and tackily overdone and the big surprise is that what is supposed to be a room in an inn in the last act was interpreted by Wernicke as a sort of Relais et Châteaux hotel, with silks, velvets and ormolu, much more in keeping with the glittering silver rose Octavian bears for Sophie on the baron’s behalf.

The singing was extremely homogeneous and competent. Both the feminine and masculine voices were excellent, with special kudos for Michaela Kaune as the Marschallin, Peter Rose as Baron Ochs and Daniela Sindram as Octavian. The latter also managed to have the physique du rôle, with her almost masculine features and stature.

Last but not least, the orchestra sounded just right under music director Philippe Jordan’s expert and inspired guidance.

All in all, this is for me, who did not see the production at its creation, yet another jewel in the Bastille’s crown.