Conductor Andrew Litton should be well stoked for this weekend's conclusion to Sommerfest. On Saturday, Litton leads the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale and soloists in a concert performance of "Der Rosenkavalier," the perfect conclusion to a festival that waltzes on a foundation of Viennese music.
"It's the most Viennese of all Viennese operas," said Litton, Sommerfest's artistic director. "I was so keen on doing the piece in Sommerfest because it's the perfect opportunity to play waltzes the way Richard Strauss wrote them."
As a coincidence of his calendar, Litton spent the past week in Vienna getting in the Strauss zone. He conducted the Tonkünstler Orchestra at the Grafenegg festival outside Vienna, in a program that included six Strauss songs. After the Saturday night concert, he was back on a plane for Minneapolis on Sunday.
"It's kind of crazy, but I love working with them so I couldn't say no," he said.
100 years old
This is the centenary of "Rosenkavalier's" premiere in Dresden, Germany. An overnight success, it would become one of Strauss' best known operas and a standard part of the repertory. The plot is of the shaggy-dog comedy variety: mistaken identities and boorish lechers, young lovers finally triumphing over the louts and claiming their future together.
The Metropolitan Opera staged an epic production in the fall of 2009, with Renee Fleming and Susan Graham. The Sommerfest program is largely a concert version, as opposed to the semi-staged productions of previous years. Litton will work out some entrances and exits with the principals, but there will be no sets.
"It's such a period piece and either you focus on the music, which is what I wanted to do, or you start making huge concessions on how to make it work with an orchestra sitting amongst you," Litton said. "To me, it's all about the music."
Litton conducted a production last fall at the Sydney Opera in Australia, and he brings to Sommerfest two of the principals: Manfred Hemm as Baron Ochs and Emma Pearson as the ingenue Sophie. The lead role of the Marschallin will be sung by Katie Van Kooten, and Octavian will be performed by Renata Pokupic. Pokupic has sung Octavian frequently in Europe, but Litton said that this is Van Kooten's first crack at the Marschallin.
"That's one of the ways we get people to come to Sommerfest -- to offer a chance to try something out here," Litton said. "So we wind up being the beneficiaries of big-name soloists who want to come and try out a piece."
Pearson joins Litton and violinist Gina diBello in an all-Mozart program Friday. Pearson will sing arias from two quite different periods of Mozart's career: "Martern aller Arten" from "The Abduction From the Seraglio" and "O zittre nicht" from "The Magic Flute." DiBello will perform on the Turkish concerto. Also on the program is the Haffner Symphony.
Litton feels Mozart and Strauss are good complements, noting the similarities between "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Marriage of Figaro."
"They come from different periods, but they work so well together," he said.
A side benefit is that Mozart requires a smaller ensemble, allowing much of the orchestra a night to rest up for the hefty work in "Der Rosenkavalier" on Saturday night. Litton, of course, will be working both nights but he scoffs at the idea he'll be feeling any jet lag from his transatlantic adventures.
"I don't think an orchestra should pay for the lack of sleep that I've had," he said. "When you finish a rehearsal, then you go home and collapse, but do it on your own time. When you have a job, adrenaline takes over."