Though standard repertoire everywhere else, the operas of Richard Strauss have long taken a back seat to the “La Scala West” thinking of Lyric Opera, which reasons that Italian composers Verdi and Puccini should each get an opera a year, but Strauss and Wagner, being German opera, have to alternate. Thus, because of Lyric’s multi-year Wagner “Ring” revival, Strauss lovers have had to go several seasons without hearing their hero, Wagnerites now experiencing a minimum of a two-season drought because of the company’s current production of “Der Rosenkavalier” and next year’s “Salome.” It would be wonderful to report that the long wait was worth it, but the current “Rosenkavalier” falls flat—sometimes literally—on several counts. German soprano Anne Schwanewilms is certainly serviceable as the Marschallin, but her singing and acting display little of the elegance and world-weariness that one of the most beloved characters in opera requires. Likewise, Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling lacks the childish innocence and naiveté that Sophie needs and on opening night, at least, was vocally too loud and harsh and pitch-challenged and unable to effectively blend with her colleagues which, in a work with a spectacular climax that depends on the ability of two sopranos and a mezzo to do precisely that, is a real problem. Director Bruce Donnell’s overtly comedic-verging-on-slapstick approach often fails to let the music itself direct the action and forgets that while “Rosenkavalier” is a comedy, it needs to be a poignant and bittersweet comedy. Sir Andrew Davis’ conducting is competent and does manage the proper Viennese “lilt” to the proceedings, but fails to achieve the scope of the work’s wide dynamic palette or to deliver a much-needed and much-missed Straussian orchestral “sheen.” (Dennis Polkow)
Lyric Opera, Wacker Drive at Madison; (312)332-2244. Through March 8.