IU Opera Theater presents 'Der Rosenkavalier' for first time in more than 40 years
When the curtain opens Feb. 24 at Bloomington's Musical Arts Center, audiences will witness the premiere of one of the largest productions to be mounted by Indiana University Opera Theater since 1966, the previous time it presented Richard Strauss' masterpiece "Der Rosenkavalier."
Since "Rosenkavalier" can clock in at a hefty four-plus hours and -- in comparison to many operas -- incorporates twice as many cast members, requires more music and staging rehearsals and has both a vocal and an orchestral score that is more complex, it is no wonder that most opera companies do not have the resources to undertake such an immense task, and productions are comparatively rare.
Stage director Vincent Liotta, Jacobs School of Music professor of opera studies, began conceptualizing his approach to the centerpiece of the current IU Opera season in November 2010 and has been working on it ever since.
Meetings between Liotta, Seattle-based set designer William Forrester and Linda Pisano, associate professor of costume design in the IU Department of Theatre and Drama, began about a year ago.
Music rehearsals for this extensive work, conducted by Jacobs professor David Effron, chair of the Orchestral Conducting Department, began in December.
"'Der Rosenkavalier' is, in many ways, the most significant production that I have done in my tenure at the Jacobs School," Liotta said. "It is a work that challenges even the most experienced producers and performers. That we undertake it at Jacobs is an indication of the ambition that has always marked IU Opera Theater to provide the best in operatic repertoire to the audience and to give our students the best in performance opportunities as we prepare them to enter the professional world."
The project is so complicated, in fact, that IU Opera chose a small chamber opera, "Albert Herring," as its previous production and moved it to the intimate Buskirk-Chumley Theater in order to free up resources at the Musical Arts Center.
"Der Rosenkavalier" is both a comedy and a bittersweet story of young love and growing old. The aristocratic Marschallin realizes she must give up her young lover, Octavian, sooner or later and chooses to do it gracefully by encouraging his relationship with young Sophie, prospective fiancée of the coarse Baron Ochs.
Liotta said that in order to create an interpretation that allows two very different story ideas to happen simultaneously, this production uses two nontraditional visual ideas -- set designs based on the work of American artist Joseph Cornell, who created collages of found objects within boxes, and costume designs in the style of the early 19th, rather than the early 18th, century.
"Our production uses the idea of objects that have been 'boxed up' to represent not so much realistic period venues as to evoke a feeling of a time gone by," Liotta said. "And by seeing the characters dressed in a look that is closer to our own self-image, the actions and emotions of the characters can relate more clearly to our own sensibilities."
"The audience will think it's fairly realistic because the costumes and the furniture will be of the period, but the environment does not attempt to create real rooms. It's more about trying to create a feeling about where we are," Forrester said.
"My overall goal as it relates to the Cornell boxes that influenced the set design is to capture the aesthetic of the period as an ensemble stage picture in each act, yet, at the same time, an audience member can look at each individual character and see the detail and the nuances that make up their life," said Pisano, who drew inspiration for her costume designs from several paintings, including William Hogarth's "Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess's Morning Levee."
"From a footman to the Marschallin," Pisano said, "the audience will see unique details that range from patches on pants to the exquisite hand-beaded fabrics in the gowns. I specifically shopped the fabrics for this production in New York City to ensure that I would have the quality and selection needed for such a broad range of characters."
Renowned German diction coach Walter Althammer worked with the singers for several weeks to assist them with the German libretto before they began working with Julia Lawson, retired faculty member from the IU Department of Germanic Studies.
Because of the extreme difficulty of the roles, three professionals have been hired -- the two singers for Baron Ochs and one of the Marschallins. "With the number of characters in the opera and the challenges to find singers for all major roles, we were fortunate to find a few professional artists who blend well with the very talented students in the Jacobs School," director of production Timothy Stebbins said.
To accommodate the length of the opera, "Der Rosenkavalier" will begin one hour earlier than usual, at 7 p.m., with Opera Insights at 6 p.m.
"Der Rosenkavalier" performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 and March 2 and 3 at the Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave. Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday (812-855-7433), or purchase online at music.indiana.edu/opera. A discounted price is available for all students.