Costa Mesa’s Opera Pacific, which seems to get better every time out, emerged triumphant from its first-ever encounter with the superheated, sometimes irritating but fulfilling operatic heritage of Richard Strauss.
This “Der Rosenkavalier” cut no corners. Other productions of this wise and bittersweet comedy have gotten by with a few judicious cuts here and there — the lecherous Baron Ochs’ interminable first-act disquisition on bedroom politics for one.
Music director John DeMain’s decision was to ignore the timeclock, both by opening all cuts and by opting for tempos so spacious at times that even the opera’s most self-indulgent segments — which, let’s face it, are numerous — seemed freshly aglow.
The opera’s defining moment, the final trio in which possession of the heart and soul of the young Rose-Cavalier passes from the aging Marschallin to the ardent adolescent Sophie, flowed like the purest Viennese honey under the star-studded sky of Bruno Schwengl’s garden set.
Texas-born Helen Donath, a longtime Opera Pacific stalwart, was the wise if somewhat soft-spoken Marschallin; Patricia Risley, in her company debut, was an athletic, scene-stealing, thoroughly believable Octavian; Nancy Allen Lundy was the sweet-voiced if rather pallid Sophie.
German bass Markus Hollop, slated as the alternate Baron Ochs in later performances, was the OK-but-little-more substitute for the ailing Daniel Lewis Williams on opening night as well. Best of all, but in a lesser role, was James Maddalena — remembered as the Tricky Dick of “Nixon in China” at the DeMain-conducted world premiere — as the nouveau-riche Faninal.
Above any of these individual contributions, the essence of this “Rosenkavalier” lay in the shaping force of DeMain’s musical leadership, plus the luminescence of his orchestra; even the horns, in this most treacherously scored of all operas, were part of the heroism. Jay Lesenger’s direction was a further positive force; the last-act hijinks, the farce played on the hapless Ochs, unrolled with a rare and admirable antic wisdom. The many hours of “Der Rosenkavalier” moved swiftly forward.