For some opera goers, Rossini’s opinion that Wagner has “wonderful moments, and dreadful quarters of an hour” applies with equal justification to Rosenkavalier: to them, the few minutes of music which melt the heart are wonderful moments surrounded by dreadful quarters of an hour of ‘comic action’ of the kind which has some minds wandering into how much they owe the nanny, or whether or not the pet insurance will cover the dog’s mange. They need have no fear at Glyndebourne, for Richard Jones has thrown out most of the embarrassing stuff along with the watered silk hangings and the ceiling-height windows against which just about every other production of this opera has been played.
It’s easy to see why a discontented, unfulfilled thirty-something might fall for Tara Erraught’s Octavian, since s/he is the epitome of youthful impetuosity and optimism; this is a remarkable assumption of the part for such a young singer, phrasing the music with grace and sincerity, and taking her great ‘moment’ to Jurinac-like heights, the final phrase uttered in a single glowing arc of sound, with no pause required between ‘Rose’ and ‘Seiner Liebe.’ Erraught’s duets with Teodora Gheorghiu’s more than usually thoughtful Sophie were a delight, although the latter was a little tested by some of her more high-lying music.
Kate Royal’s Marschallin unites fabulous beauty, dignity and elegant singing to provide a characterization at once admirable and affecting; she could not fail to bring tears to the most curmudgeonly of eyes at ‘Euer Liebden Kavalier vorfahren…’ and even though she was just a trifle shaky on that high G at ‘Silberne Rose’ she negotiated the stratospheric parts of the trio with seeming ease. Her kinsman Baron Ochs was superbly sung by Lars Woldt, in an assumption which seemed to have touches of Malvolio about it.
Michael Kraus’ Faninal united the anxieties of a father and an ‘arriviste,’ making much of his expansive opening phrase and his touching final one. The principals were supported by some finely judged playing from Helene Schneiderman and Christopher Gillet as the plotters, Gwynne Howell as a credibly perturbed Notary, Robert Wörle as an affable Innkeeper and Scott Conner as an endearingly pompous Inspector. Andrej Dunav’s Italian Tenor introduced a voice I’d like to hear again, and Miranda Keys made a strong impact as the Duenna.
Jones’ production is fast-paced, tightly focused on the emotions of the characters and blessedly strong on personenregie; amongst the many engaging touches were Mohammed as a besotted teenager rather than a cutesy kid, the Marschallin and her beloved seated at opposite ends of a long sofa as at least one of them was acknowledging that their love was doomed, and Sophie awaiting the arrival of her Cavalier in a narrow little room dominated by the portrait of her dying mother.
Paul Steinberg’s sets are a riot of colour, with both the Feldmarschal’s abode and that of Faninal outrageous displays of dubious taste, with the latter resembling the foyers of the Festival Hall as it might have appeared in a vision – and not a heavenly one at that. I wanted to wear both of the edgy, fashion-forward dresses which Nicky Gillibrand had designed for the Marschallin, although Octavian’s silver outfit was a little on the dowdy side. Mimi Jordan Sherin’s limpid, evocative lighting was a constant pleasure, and the chorus of lackeys, servants, dubious maidens, children and pets was managed with Jeremy Bines’ characteristic skill.
The LPO is in glorious form at the moment, and Robin Ticciati drew from them playing of the most rapturous sweetness, the strings pulsating with emotion in every phrase – to get so deeply into Strauss’ sound world during the same brief period that they are also giving Tchaikovsky’s music the most idiomatic interpretation, shows their exceptional responsiveness. This was not a reading for those who must have schwung at every crucial moment, but one with an overall sense of ease and unaffected sincerity.
After last season’s less than seminal Ariadne, it was a joy to see and hear this moving and finely sung production: at this 3rd performance of the run, as principals and conductor took their bows, they were pelted with red roses from a thunderously appreciative audience, recent crass comments about a certain cast member clearly disregarded. This is a Rosenkavalier for today, largely sold out of course, but still with good chances to get returns for the remaining ten performances – or failing that, it will be broadcast ‘live’ to cinemas in most of the UK on June 8th, or you can catch it at the Proms on July 22nd.