Der Rosenkavalier, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

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The mezzo-soprano du jour Joyce DiDonato has become the latest artist to don the breeches of Octavian von Rofrano and her eponymous stripling in this revival of the bittersweet Richard Strauss perennial, a tribute to the impresarial acumen of the former Intendant Pamela Rosenberg. In contrast to another Rosenberg project recently and controversially recast by her successor David Gockley, there has been no tampering with this revival, which includes a pair of belated company debuts. San Francisco’s reputation as a leading American Strauss-spielhaus remains undiminished.

Perhaps DiDonato hasn’t totally concealed her femininity in this venture into the world of travesty roles. But what the impersonation lacks in macho swagger it makes up for in turbulent emotionalism, pitched somewhere between youthful bravado and hormonal ardour. DiDonato also proves an adroit, tasteful comedian in the “Mariandel” episodes, with her luscious instrument and spot-on phrasing dominating the ensembles.

She is in exalted Straussian company. The Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski introduced an aristocratic, gently reflective Marschallin who disdains self-dramatising glamour in favour of the intense verbal focus one expects from a major Lieder interpreter. Some of the role lies a bit low for this singer; when the line rises, notably in the climactic trio, Isokoski’s instrument glows with uncommon sensuous appeal. The Swedish soprano Miah Persson is a dream Sophie, adorable to watch in her rebellious tantrums and pure pleasure to hear as her silvery filigree ascends into the stratosphere. Solid of voice, bass Kristinn Sigmundsson overplays Baron Ochs’s vulgarity, although he relishes Strauss’s thoroughly anachronistic and utterly irresistible waltzes. Jochen Smeckenbecher’s Faninal epitomises bourgeois opportunism.

In his first company outing with the work, music director Donald Runnicles propels his forces a bit precipitously, but he is alert to the score’s erotic appeal and lush textures. He does his best to accommodate a cast notable more for musicianship than lung power. Lotfi Mansouri’s production, tended by Sandra Bernhard, recreates Alfred Roller’s original 1911 Dresden designs, not flattered by the prosaic lighting scheme. Fortunately, these singers would probably shine under any circumstances.
Tel +1 415 864 3330
To July 1

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