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Listening to Der Rosenkavalier is like lying in a warm bath for three
hours. Well I've just had a six hour bath because I wanted to compare
Kiri Te Kanawa's 1985 version with the Felicity Lott version of 1994.
This was only a metaphorical bath because watching television in the
bath can be fatal. Even if you are watching the television in the
lounge through the bathroom door there is still the danger that you
will drop the remote control in the water. By the end, my metaphorical
bath was thoroughly chilled by the real tears rolling down my cheeks as
I listed to the final trio three times over, first Lott, then Te
Kanawa, then Lott again. This is one of the reasons why I love opera on
film. Anyone wanting to do a comparative review of the two live
productions would have to wait nine years to do so and then the
comparison would be blurred by selective recall.
The Te Kanawa film is the Royal Opera House production, directed on stage by John Schlesinger and on film by the estimable opera specialist Brian Large. As well as Dame Kiri as the Marschallin, this stars Anne Howells as Octavian and Barbara Bonney as Sophie. The conductor is Georg Solti. The 1994 film stars the so-called dream team of Dame Felicity as the Marschallin with Anne Sofie von Otter as Octavian and Barbara Bonney again as Sophie. This is a Vienna State Opera production, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. I do not wish to draw a distinction between the vocal performances in these productions because, as far as I am concerned, all five singers are wonderful. Dame Kiri is a more regal Marschallin and Dame Felicity is more human. Barbara Bonney as Sophie in both productions gives the impression that the role was written for her. Anne Howells makes a charming man or woman and Anne Sofie von Otter is the sexiest thing I have ever seen in trousers. We should be grateful that Richard Strauss's hatred of tenors caused him to make Octavian a trouser role. This makes Von Hofmannsthal's libretto almost like a Shakespeare comedy with a woman playing a man who then disguises himself as a woman. But it is a comedy with great profundity. The final trio in which the Marschallin realises that the time has come to let her lover go to a younger woman is everyone's favourite for a desert island.
So why do I go for the Felicity Lott version. Let me give you two tiny reasons. When von Otter appears as the Rosenkavalier to present the silver rose to Sophie she is stiff and formal and does not look straight at her but we can see from von Otter's eyes what she is thinking. We see the sidelong glances at Sophie and then when they finally look directly at each other we see the devastating effect on both their faces. The other is at the very end of the opera when the Marschallin makes her final exit. She trails her hand behind her, correctly assuming that Octavian will rush to take it for one last time. That detail of Von Hofmannsthal's is in both films but it is von Otter and Lott who accomplish it most movingly.
Finally to that last trio. Why did I watch it three times? Well, first I watched the Lott version, then Te Kanawa and then Lott again to try to work out why I preferred it. Ultimately I think it was Carlos Kleiber's interpretation that made the vital difference and caused my warm bath to run cold with tears.
I personally prefer the 1985 production with Kiri TeKanawa, but I think
both that and this are excellent. Der Rosenkavalier is my favourite
Richard Strauss opera, with absolutely wonderful music, I cannot resist
tearing up during the final trio, and a strong story and characters.
Like the 1984 production, the 1994 production is very opulent visually. The sets are lavish and the costumes are exquisite and beautifully tailored. The camera work is also delightful. The orchestra play with real feeling and sensitivity and the conducting from Carlos Kleiber is done with real finesse.
The performances are superb. Barbara Bonney is once again lovely and a real charmer as Sophie, and Felicity Lott a poised and human Marschallin. Kurt Moll is a firm and noble, if slightly annoying, Baron Ochs with good acting skills and he is in fine voice as well. Ann Sophie von Otter steals the show here for me, she is sexy, sings beautifully and her eyes are wonderfully expressive.
Overall, excellent. 9/10 Bethany Cox
Musically and vocally this Rosenkavalier is almost ideal; grand
old-school stage animals for the senior parts, rising wunderkind for
the younger roles. Most compelling for me is Flott's Marschallin, the
most comprehensively acted out interpretation to be seen on video, if
not the most ribbon-toned: her response to Faninal's observation that
the uncovering of the central love affair is 'how young people are' is
met with cultured, succinct vocal acting that cannot be bought for any
Beside her the others look a little more studied than I might have hoped for, although I still find myself overwhelmed at all the right moments. This is, of course, mainly to do with Kleiber, making another foray into the filmed - and then running away again almost as the last note is played! If only the performances and indeed, funnily enough, the filming, were less self-conscious. 6/10
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