Sublime, thy name is the last 20 minutes of Act III of Der Rosenkavalier. I will also grant you the last 20 minutes of Act I and the 20 minutes that fall somewhere round the end of the first third of Act II, but the rest is a Thanksgiving turkey that's been stuffed with everything inside the refrigerator: pretty on the outside but too too too, too much. (Too much retinue bumbling, for example, too much bellowing from the odious Baron Ochs, and too much laughter had from the forced betrothal of an innocent young woman to the same odious man. So thanks for that, America! j/k, it's obviously German.)
Time, it is a curious thing.
This from the Marschallin, our melancholy heroine, in an opera about love and youth and beauty and everything passing by.
She is feeling old (at 32!); her husband is off shooting things in Croatia and she knows her young lover Octavian (17!) will soon grow tired of her. Rebuffing his efforts to cheer her (Act I), she must then apologize when he begins to cry: “Now I even have to console the boy for his leaving me sooner or later,” she sings, O sadder but wise girl, knowingly sending him off to deliver a silver rose to the one who will unwittingly become his next love. But first she tries to explain her mood to him, a thing he cannot understand because he's 17, and only a boy after all: “At times I get up in the middle of the night and stop all the clocks,” she tells him. “All of them.”
It hurts, this scene, how badly she wants to hold on, and how fiercely she resists. Time is sand. Life is water. We would value nothing if it lasted forever. And we shed a tear for her (well okay, I do), because while he swears his fidelity with all the passionate sincerity a 17-year-old boy can muster, he also up and falls in love—at first sight—with the poor girl to whom he delivers the rose at the top of the very next act.*
*This I know, having seen the opera many times before. Last night, however, we skipped all of Act II and both intermissions (~100 minutes, give or take) and hopped across the street to the Empire Hotel to unwind with a couple of biers. "Life is too short for Act II of Rosenkavalier" is something you can tattoo on my forehead. Feel free to share with others.
Ahem: but all of this, ultimately, is not why one sits through 4+ long hours in the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera surrounded by the Upper West Side's finest. Alas, one goes for three soprano roles: the famed Marschallin (Renée Fleming, all languorous good humor and noblesse oblige), Octavian (a believably pouty and proud Elīna Garanča), and Sophie (Erin Morley, pretty and bright). And, more specifically, one goes for those last 20 minutes, which include the loveliest trio in all opera—what is for two a beginning and one a goodbye.
I chose to love him
in the right way,
so that I would love even
his love for another! I truly didn't believe
that I would have to bear it so soon!
Twenty minutes of music that is the pure heart of longing, so sublime (see?) that I wept and wept, then wept some more. (Newsflash: Sally cried, too.) Not because it’s sad (although of course it’s sad), but because it is glorious. Three voices spinning and weaving and rising so clearly and so high it’s almost impossible to believe—even as you're watching with your own eyes—that their feet do not leave the ground.
I mean, just listen to this goddamn jingle (from the 2009 production):