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Selected Review


Opera

Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne

Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne photo Bill Cooper

In the year celebrating the 150 anniversary of Strauss’s birth it should not come as a surprise to see the Marschallin in her birthday suit. What? Yes, the action opened on May 24 with her completely naked, leg raised resting on the edge of a stylish bath, hand showering with gold dust after some intense lovemaking. There is always a first time and perhaps also the last time to be surprised, but the idea did not jar, and what followed showed courage, good ideas, humour and quite an understanding of how an unequal affair is ended. The Marschallin eventually donned a dishabillé only to give her back to the public, confront an excited Oktavian, and opening it up slowly revealing all to him, again. She then turned her head round to the public in a piquant manner, reminding one of those saucy postcards. These two characters enjoyed sex, eating out of each other’s mouths, playing with fruits over breasts, hinting at a full sexual relationship. But the Marschallin is after all a woman of rank and she is watched benignly by the Feldmarschall from a portrait on the wall facing the public, and so bit by bit she reverts to form and this takes her away from Oktavian. By the end of the act it was exceedingly clear that she did not wish to have more sexual fun of any kind. Before we had seen a new side of her character which put her at par with her cousin Ochs: they were both hunters of pleasure but she hunted more and much more successfully.

This was a fantasy household, more like Hänsel und Gretel than a Viennese palace, adding an element of artificiality which was very attractive to look at. All the servants exhibited silvery wigs, and the main characters their own hair. The Major-domo was the perfect man for this young and exciting woman, he could deal with impeccable manners with unsolicited gossip from Valzacchi, taking him gently away from the Marschallin, and - oh surprise - he would lift Mohammed’s head from the Marschallin’s lap after her monologue, and - oh boy - was he besotted with her, looking at her taking her shower from doors ajar, languidly. Lovely to watch and to feel. And who was that oldish man sitting behind the Marschallin’s long settee during the Monologue? Freud, of course! Freud? Well, if one was well seated one could see that the scene which followed Ochs’s departure was not just a Monologue but rather a psychoanalytical session, the man behind her long settee was taking notes while she lay on it giving her back to him – a very funny idea and quite an interesting one. But, if the public were to the centre left (not politically speaking of course) they would have missed this detail completely. Why oh why do producers choose to behave in this cavalier manner? One of the basic rules of theatre is that all the public has to be able to see the action, and it is careless or simply rude of Jones not to pay attention to this rule. Apart from that huge error, the production was rich in detail, fun to look at, and quite revealing. Faninal must have made his fortune out of the construction industry (a side comment to John Christie?) as befits his concrete palace built just in 1929, the year of the Barcelona Chair which informs us from both sides of the stage. Modernists had just discovered concrete and it was the most fashionable material.

There is plenty of detail, as befits life as its most complicated, and Jones has pulled out all the stops to display a palette of emotions and, as in the trio, make it all look right and shabby and real but not disgusting. How many times have I analyzed and discussed how does the Marschallin offer her hand to Oktavian for him to kiss it at the very end, or how does she inflect the words “Ja ja”. Did she offer the hand sofltly and looked at him longingly? Or did she just command a kiss on her stiff hand to show how disappointed she was? I have seen it done in many different ways in my long Rosenkavalier life from the routine hand to the characterful one. Well, this Marschallin does NOT offer her hand nor, in fact, seems very interested in the young couple any longer. And this of course, speaks volumes for the feelings inside her. But to see the quickly revived Faninal walk slightly behind her like a Viennese Mr Collins was perfect, the right touch, and this Marschallin could not get out of this place quickly enough, leaving the stage to the loving pair. Enter Mohammed: what? no handkerchief? Ah, there was a schall on the settee now in the dark. Perfect.

It warmed the cockles of one’s heart to see this devotion to detail, the humour and the feeling which pervaded this production and made it an ideal homage to Strauss and to Hofmannstahl. But how about the cast? It would be hard to find a more good-looking Marschallin than Kate Royal, she just looked the part to a T, her smile was wide and revealing, picaresque, her demeanour just right, she only had to hint at a command and it would be done for her. Her authority towards Ochs in the third act was not overwhelming and heavy: she let the penny drop and the music did the rest. Among all this, Royal navigated like a beautiful sailing yacht, not like a transatlantic in heavy seas. Her Marschallin will grow as long as she remains in small theatres. Her inflections were at times muddled, but the voice remained silvery and clear. There could have been more ‘philosophy’ behind her words, but maybe neither she nor her conductor wanted that. But it would be nice to hear them anyway in other performances. All in all, a sensational debut.

At her side was the best Oktavian I have seen for a very long time. A chubby cherub, in line with his origins as Cherubino, with a wonderful Mozartian mezzo voice, even, easy top, very good acting, and conveying the excess of testosterones to perfection. Tara Erraught fulfilled all expectations and more. Watch this name because she will go far. As Sophie, Teodora Gheorghiu brought also a silvery light soprano, fragile but resolved. Her encounter with Oktavian, yet another masterstroke by Jones, could not have revealed better how her world started to tumble. She was funny, sang well and looked lovely. Lars Woldt fell many times into the typical exaggerations we have seen many Ochs fall into; maybe Jones could not control him or maybe he wanted it like that to show contrast. Woldt sang with full command of the words, inflecting a funny sort of Viennese dialect as a German would do, not a Viennese, but never mind.

As the performance progressed one easily got accustomed to this rogue, and what an idea to have Oktavian plunge the silver rose into his bottom in the confrontation during the second act! Helene Schneiderman was a fine intrigant Annina, Michael Kraus a von Faninal still not into his role as a newly elevated minor noble, Gwynne Howell gave weight and nobility to the Notary and Andrej Dunaev showed that one does not need a celebrity tenor to sing the Italian tenor very well. There were no weak links in this chain showing that Glyndebourne had worked hard to achieve this level. Robin Ticciati conducted with light hand, his tempi were right and on the fast side: he let the orchestral soloists shine at every opportunity, so one heard a lot of orchestral detail which is normally covered. Ticciati’s sound was not up to the gorgeous level of the stage presentation but it may get there, as he must, as music director of this illustrious festival. When this performance comes out on DVD please do not miss it; just buy it and enjoy it.

Eduardo Benarroch

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

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