It is tempting, when contemplating a production as fine as the "Der Rosenkavalier" the Metropolitan Opera has brought to the Kennedy Center, to focus on individual performances.
Certainly, last night, Frederica von Stade's Octavian was as fresh and worldly a portrayal as one could imagine. It was sung with a combination of stunning purity and sincerity, and acted as convincingly as a woman pretending to be a man, pretending, at times, to be a woman, probably can be.
Aage Haugland is a marvelous, resonant, bigger-than-life Baron Ochs, blessed with both a stand-up comic's sense of timing and an artist's sense of proportion.
And Evelyn Lear, who was last night's Marschallin, brought to that complex characterization wisdom, humor, compassion and sensuality. Her voice is an unusually expressive instrument, and her acting, while more suited to the serious aspects of the role than to the humorous scenes of the first act, is powerful.
On the podium, James Levine boldly painted both Strauss' vulgarity and his poignant lyricism, pacing the long opera with a skill that made the moments of silence as intense as the noisiest climaxes.
What makes this production unusual, however, is the balanced strength of its large ensemble. The one weak link might be Kathleen Battle's acting as Sophie, but Sophie is a rather vapid character and a little stiffness is credible, particularly when overlayed with glorious singing.
Otherwise everything that went on was of a piece. The odd types that appeared from time to time were delightful. Ochs' entourage was properly disreputable and the Marschallin's household retainers were as zany as could be. They acted as well as they sang, and that is saying a lot.