A largely successful Rosenkavalier, mainly for the performances of Schwanewilms, Vondung and Rydl
Of Strauss' operas, while Ariadne Auf Naxos is perhaps his most sophisticated Der Rosenkavalier has always been my favourite. It has typically gorgeous music(the final trio is perhaps the most beautiful scene of all of Strauss' operas, is fun at times and always moves me. This is a very good production, not quite on the same level as the 1962, 1985, 1979, 1994 and 1982 performances but absolutely worth watching for a number of reasons.
It does have a couple of problems though. The main one was the Sophie of Maki Mori. Actually this is not a terrible performance, just not to my taste. Her voice is bright and controlled, which is always a good thing regarding Strauss, and she looks beautiful and charming. However, as an actress I just didn't find her convincing, excepting the Presentation of the Rose scene which was touching, with the constant smiling and flicking her hair and not much else it did look to me as though she lacked experience. I felt little of Sophie's sadness or revulsion as she is reprimanded, which I felt with Annelise Rothenberger, Lucia Popp and Barbara Bonney, and when she is offended by Baron Ochs she for some reason seems to be cool with it.
I also found the Italian Opera Singer of Roberto Sacca(surprisingly as he has given great performances before) weak, the voice is strained and he just wasn't very characterful or funny.
However, the rest of the singing is wonderful. Anke Vordung's Octavian is one of the performance's highlights, she is impetuous and charming in the joint most important role of the opera, the other being the Marschallin. And she actually looks like a teenage boy, so much so you do forget she's a woman. She is a great, sincere actress, and her voice is both firm and creamy, with great musicality. Whether she is one of the greats in the role like Ann Sofie Von Otter, Christa Ludwig, Tatiana Troyanos, Brigitte Fassbaender and Sena Jurinac I am not sure, but she is outstandingly good indeed, definitely not a performance to disregard.
Elisabeth Wilke as Annina steals the show in Act 2, with her great timing, effective scheming and strong and quite luscious mezzo she is one of the better Anninas I've come across. Fanninal is also good.
Kurt Rydl, despite the wobble he's now got in his voice, is the best Baron Ochs since Kurt Moll under Kleiber. He is for me more convincing than Franz Hawlata, who sings well and gives the role humanity but for my tastes is not quite sonorous or boorish enough, as well as Otto Edelmann on record who characterises well but uses crooning half-voice too much in Act 2. Here Rydl's singing is robust and has the right amount of resonance on the very low basso notes, even with the wobble this is a Baron Ochs that shows authority in his voice. In acting, he is just as good, boorish and self-satisfied yet gives him some humanity that doesn't make him overly crude or annoying.
Anne Schwanewilms in the role of the Marschallin is superb. The singing is of great beauty, is controlled and very musically and intelligently used. Her acting is of dignity and nobility and like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Kiri Te Kanawa, Gwyneth Jones, Felicity Lott and even Renee Fleming she brings a lot of nuances to the role that helps to bring meaning to the Marschallin's wise yet sad words. Her entrance in Act 3, one of the greatest in all opera for me, is suitably graceful.
Musically, I cannot fault it either. The orchestral playing is rich and in the case of the waltz-like tunes and the final trio sumptuous. The legato lines are long and controlled, and don't feel fragmented in any way. Fabio Luisi's conducting is firm yet allows the poetry of the score to come through. One of the better conductors of this score since Carlos Kleiber that's for sure. Visually, when I heard the production was updated, I thought to myself that this could mean ugly and superfluous like the Zurich production and some of the Robert Carsen-directed production. How wrong I was, and thank goodness I didn't let my fears cloud my judgements. Even with a couple of anachronisms and the Presentation of the Rose scene looking and feeling as though it was set in a kitchen, this updated production actually looks very opulent and lavishly coloured.
The staging is very good and allows the singers to act and live their characters, the Baron Ochs scenes don't resort to buffoonery(like they have potential to) and the Presentation of the Rose and final trio are moving. The video directing is unobtrusive and never too gimmicky. Overall, this is a very good production of such a wonderful opera. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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