Returning to Rosenkaverlier

14 Jun

Rosenkaverlier, like Madama Butterfly is one of my pet hates and the performance I saw at Glyndebourne on 12th June was the first I’d been to in 27 years.  I enjoyed it more than I’d expected but that was as much to do with Richard Jones’s production and the fact that I am much more enthusiastic about Richard Strauss’s music than I used to be, as with any rapprochement with the opera itself.  I find the piece horribly artificial and kitschy: a piece of self-conscious artistry in creating an image of eighteenth century, aristocratic Vienna. with a plot that’s toilet-paper thin, bulked out with minor characters of no interest or sense of reality.  Cutting 20 minutes out of each act would be quite a good start, but I’m unconvinced that even that would reconcile me to the piece.  The people I respect who enjoy Rosenkaverlier get very emotional about the characterisation of the Marschallin and the sense of time moving on.  I’ve never quite got this, which probably says as much about this as them but, unlike, one of my companions at this performance, I simply don’t find the monologue at the end of Act I remotely moving.  Gorgeous music, but it never makes me cry.

This production has all the hallmark’s Richard Jones’s style: strikingly garish sets and costumes, precise movement and really intelligent direction of character.  There is barely any sense of tradition about the production – the costumes are a mixture of styles, the sets tend to cramp, pushing action downstairs.  There are some glorious images – the opening of the nude Marschallin like a Botticelli Venus taking a shower watched by Oktavian and, at the end of the act curling up on the huge sofa.  The other bits of business are well enough managed and there is wit and elegance about the production.  It’s a strong piece of work but doesn’t save the opera.

The cast was decent.  I thought that Kate Royal made an absolutely gorgeous Marschallin.  She’s looks good and sang gorgeously, every word told and she sounded ravishing, caught the dignity of the role and its sadness – but there was also a hard-edged certainty, almost cynicism about her which came out as she dealt with Ochs in the last act.  I’m not sure how far vocally she would survive in a larger theatre.  Here it was great.

I also admired Lars Woldt very much indeed as Ochs.  He was a splendidly boorish country cousin with not the smallest idea of how to fit in in this society.  I’ve heard darker, richer voices, but this, again, worked really well in the house.

So to Tara Erraught.  What struck me about her looks was that this was what Jones intended – puppy-ish, young, gauche and immature.  I suspect he was consciously going away from the traditional image of an Oktavian.  I don’t think it’s wrong to comment on that and I think that a lot of the comments, quite frankly, have been misunderstood.  She sang well but not exceptionally.  Teodora Gheorghiu looked petite and young as Sophie but vocally did not really float the top notes and sound as beautiful as I would like.

Of the other roles, Michael Kraus was a really excellent Faninal – unexaggerated and absolutely right; Miranda Keys was a marvellously funny Marianne Leitmetzerin, Andrej Durnaev a fine Italian Tenor.  David Francis-Swaby and Joseph Bader were excellent as Mohammed and Leopold – both well developed characters which they managed to make convincing and funny without upstaging or hogging the stage.

Robin Ticciati conducted.  One of the most admirable things about it was the way he accompanied the singers.  It’s easy in Strauss for singers to be drowned.  Here, you could hear every word and follow the piece like a play.  Otherwise, I thought that what he provided was very decent, unexciting and reliable.  The LPO struck me as on pretty good form.

So, for an opera I don’t like, it could have been a lot worse.  I may even try to get to the rumoured new one at the Opera House when that comes round.

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