Thought-Provoking Rosenkavalier Needs a Dash of Whipped Cream

24/08/2014

 Salzburg Festival (6) – Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Soloists, Salzburg Festival and Theatre Children’s Chorus (chorus master: Wolfgang Götz), Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus (chorus master: Ernst Raffelsberger), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst (conductor). Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 17.8.2014 (MB)

 

hires-Rosenkavalier_Ensemble_c_Monika_Rittershaus_0 (1)-500

Rosenkavalier Ensemble (c) Monika Rittershaus

Cast
Die Feldmarschallin Fürstin Werdenberg – Krassimira Stoyanova
Der Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau – Günther Groissböck
Octavian – Sophie Koch
Herr von Faninal – Adrian Erőd
Sophie – Mojca Erdmann
Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin – Silvana Dussmann
Valzacchi – Rudolf Schasching
Annina – Wiebke Lehmkuhl
Police Officer – Tobias Kehrer
The Marschallin’s Major-domo – Franz Supper
Faninal’s Major-domo – Martin Piskorski
A Notary – Dirk Aleschus
A Landlord – Roman Sadnik
A Singer – Stefan Pop
A Milliner – Alexandra Flood
A Vendor of Pets – Franz Gürtelschmied
Leopold – Rupert Grössinger
Lackeys/Waiters – Won Cheol Song, Franz Gruber, Friedrich Springer, Jens Musger
Lerchenauischen – Florian Boberski, Kiril Chobanov, Manuel Grabner, Helmut Höllriegl, Boris Lichtenberger, Christian Schläpfer
House Servant (Mohammed) – Liviu Burz

 

Production 
Harry Kupfer (director)
Hans Schavernoch (set designs)
Yan Tax (costumes)
Jürgen Hoffmann (lighting)
Thomas Reimer (video design)

Harry Kupfer’s production of Der Rosenkavalier is without a doubt the most thought-provoking of the stagings I saw at this year’s Salzburg Festival. It intrigued me during the first act, though I was not really sure how I felt about it; it grew on me during the second, and had won me over by the third. That seems to be a deliberate strategy, conducted in tandem with a gradual blossoming of colour from the severe near-monochrome of the early twentieth-century (time of composition) Marschallin’s palace to the more colourful inn of the third act, with certain carefully colour making its point in between. All around, photographs – untrustworthy memories – of celebrated Viennese landmarks from the Kunsthistorisches Museum to the Prater make their point concerning recollection and reimagination. What I felt was missing was a further layering from an imaginary eighteenth century in which Hofmannsthal – if not necessarily Strauss – so painstakingly sets the action, but I learned to live with that, and again, by the time of the third act, had quite forgotten about it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there too.

For pretty much all of the action one would (rightly?) expect is present and correct, except not necessarily quite as one might initially have expected it, not the least of this opera’s lessons. A particular strength of Kupfer’s production is its light insistence upon the work’s metatheatricality, less overt than, say, Ariadne auf Naxos or Capriccio, but still important to its layering. One certainly has a good sense of the Marschallin as director, and indeed as fallible narrator/director. Are the snapshots hers, as might be suggested by the arrival of her extraordinarily – deliberately so – car at the end of the third act? What are the implications for agency here? Is she still in control? And what might that mean for Octavian and Sophie, here directed – and played – as a much stronger woman than one generally experiences?

The case of Sophie is especially interesting, since I admit that, in purely vocal terms, I did not find Mojca Erdmann’s portrayal especially inviting, hearing more of an Olympia than a Sophie, a strangely mechanical rendering at times. Yet, somehow, it worked, and the strength of character came across more strongly than I can recall. For once, it was quite possible to understand why Octavian might have made the choice he did. Sophie Koch’s portrayal of the role is well-known and did not disappoint on this occasion, the opera’s play with gender as captivating as ever. Krassimira Stoyanova presented a dignified Marschallin: no vulgar playing on the heart-strings here, and probably all the more moving for it. Moreover, her careful attention to the words could usefully be aped by certain more fêted exponents of the role.

Günther Groissböck worked hard to present a less caricatured Ochs than one often suffers. What remained of caricature was probably ineradicable: a pity, but there is only so much one can do with the part. Groissböck’s was an uncommonly subtle reading, though, again born of laudable attention to the text. (It is perhaps a pity, though, that Kupfer seems to want to have Sophie having made up her mind against him from the very start; a little more contest and development would not necessarily go amiss.) To start with, I thought Adrian Erőd’s Faninal a little dry in tone, but that soon ceased to trouble me; perhaps I was just imagining it. The supporting cast was not always of the highest quality, but then there is a huge amount to cast here, and much, by the same token, was impressive. Rudolf Schasching’s coarsely sung Valzacchi was a rare true disappointment; Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s Annina was much more characterful. Roman Sadnik’s Landlord – intriguingly, though probably coincidentally, dressed and even very much looking like the owner of Triangel, the restaurant outside the house – offered a particularly vivid portrayal, whilst Rupert Grössinger (and Kupfer) made considerably more of Leopold, Ochs’s son, than is generally the case.

The performances were originally to have been conducted by Zubin Mehta, who had to withdraw on medical grounds. Franz Welser-Möst was a generally efficient, if not exactly inspiring, replacement, the exception to efficiency lying in an inordinately drawn out close to the first act. (I thought it was never going to end, and I am rarely opposed to slower tempi.) It was certainly not a warm reading, but that to an extent married well with the production, especially earlier on. A little more whipped cream would not necessarily have done any harm, and there were perhaps a few more discrepancies between pit and stage than one might have expected. Still, there was much to savour, and to think about, both from production and from the performances on stage.

Mark Berry

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