Lacks elegance and some of the staging doesn't gel with the libretto, but wonderfully sung and played
Der Rosenkavalier is my favourite of Strauss' operas especially for the sublime final trio. So I'd see any performance of the opera. By all means I have seen far worse productions in general of any opera, but this production was rather disappointing. It is wonderfully sung and played, but I would have preferred more elegant production values and the staging has moments that both don't gel with the libretto and feel awkward.
Pros: The orchestral playing, more lyrical and less brass-prominent than Solti's version for example, is on the most part very impressive. It is lush(presentation of the rose), sensitive(Marschallin's passage of time monologue) witty(Herr Cavalier) and powerful(apart from moments of plodding tempo, especially in the latter part, the final trio). And the players do look as though they do enjoy the score and play with emotion. Franz Welser-Most's conducting is efficient, not shying away from the more dissonant parts of the score, and sympathetic to the nuances. All the principal singers are wonderful. The standout for me was Malin Hartelius. Her Sophie is radiant, with a firm yet beautiful middle register and ethereal high notes that almost recall Lucia Popp. Her shyness in the presentation of the rose and her revulsion at Baron Ochs offending her are especially well done. Vesselina Kasarova is one of the most impulsive Octavians I've seen, as well as impetuous and charming, you really believe that Octavian is a 17-year old boy and you never stop. Her mezzo is full in tone with creamy chest notes. Her musicality as ever is outstanding.
Nina Stemme is a more neurotic Marschallin than you usually see, which may be a shock to some at first. However, her powerful voice with a blooming top is intelligently used and shows fine musicianship and phrasing, and on DVD it's the most focused her vibrato's been as well. Dramatically, it is deeply felt and involved, but I would have preferred more nuances. Alfred Muff is an excellent Baron Ochs if not one of the greats in the role like Kurt Moll. His voice is strong and resonant if occasionally lacking colour and a tendency to use a little too much Sprechstimme. On a dramatic front, his Ochs is boorish and self-satisfied, is very comedic without being too much of a buffoon, and there is a touch of both malevolence and humanity here. Brigitte Pinter is a witty Annina, making Herr Cavalier especially fun to hear and watch. Gunther Groissbock is a good Commissar.
Cons: There were three disappointments though in the cast. Rolf Haunstein could have had more subtlety vocally and as Faninal he is very routinely directed so I didn't really ever find him funny. Boiko Svetanov's Italian Opera Singer is seriously strained, while the Valzacchi of Rudolf Schasching very under-characterised. But my main issues with this Rosenkavalier was to do with the production values and staging. When I think of Der Rosenkavalier(then again I do tend to, unintentionally, to have some somewhat stereotyped views when it comes to opera) I think of sumptuous elegance and class. I didn't get that here, everything is in drab greys with cold and variety-less lighting and unflattering costumes especially with Stemme and Kasarova. It just felt unappealing to me, and didn't contrast enough with Baron Ochs' boorishness.
The staging was no improvement. The passage of time monologue works very effectively as does Herr Cavalier. But pretty much everything ranges from obtrusive to awkward and a lot doesn't gel. The obtrusive parts were the parts with Leopold and the noble at the Faninals, parts that would have worked better silent. I also think the Marschallin's exit fits under this too, heavy-handed instead of graceful and the fact that the final duet part of the final scene was done literally as a group-hug made no sense. I was mixed on the Presentation of the Rose scene, Hartelius's shyness and the hiding from Octavian did work and was very touching, but I never really got that sense of love at first sight, the whole point of this scene. The two awkward moments were the cut made to the latter part of the duel between Octavian and Ochs resulting in a stab to Ochs' foot and giving the Faninals no time to react properly, and the insipid lining up on the stage of the choristers in Act 3 during the Commissar's scene. The idea to have the action backstage for Act 2 with appearances occasionally at the window was promising initially but got very tiresome by the end.
Overall, loved the musical values and singing but disliked the production values and staging. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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