PROM 6:Transparent Textures in Ticciati’s Semi-Staged Rosenkavalier

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  PROM 6: Richard Strauss,  Der Rosenkavalier: Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra /  Robin Ticciati (conductor), Royal Albert Hall 22.7.2014 (RB)

Prom6  CR BBC Chris Christodolou
Der Rosenkavalier PROM 6 CR BBC Chris Christodolou

Octavian: Tara Erraught
The Marschallin:  Kate Royal
Baron Ochs: Franz Hawlata
Sophie: Louise Alder
Notary: Gwynne Howell
Valzacchi: Christopher Gillett
Italian Tenor: Andrej Dunaev
Annina: Helene Schneiderman
Faninal: Michael Kraus
Marianne: Miranda Keys
Innkeeper: Robert Wörle
Police Inspector: Scott Conner

Sarah Fahie: Semi-staging and Movement Director
Based on full production of Richard Jones

This production of Der Rosenkavalier opened the 2014 Glyndebourne Festival to much critical controversy (of which more later).  In this semi-staged production at the Proms, Glyndebourne very wisely decided to use period costumes, to have furniture and props on stage and to have the orchestra seated well below the performers.  The resources of the Royal Albert Hall were used to optimum effect:  there were neon panels at the back with various lighting patterns used to depict the changing scenery; and the soloists treated it as a full production acting their parts well and entering and exiting on cue.  The costumes and décor conveyed the sense of the action being set in fin de siecle Vienna (the period when the opera was written) although there was also a whiff of Hapsburg 18th Century opulence.  Lars Woldt and Teodora Gheorghui who were down to play Baron Ochs and Sophie had to withdraw at the last moment owing to illness and Franz Hawlata and Louise Alder took their respective places.

Der Rosenkavalier was Strauss’ second collaboration with the librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and was seen by some commentators at the time as a retreat from the more modernist harmonic language of Elektra to a more conservative musical style.  The action revolves around the three principal sopranos – the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie.  Princess Marie Therese, or the Marschallin as she is known in the opera, is having an illicit affair with a much younger aristocratic lover, Octavian.  The Marschallin asks Octavian to present a silver rose – seen in the opera as a marriage proposal – to the wealthy bourgeois Sophie Faninal on behalf of her cousin Baron Ochs.  In doing so, Octavian becomes entranced by Sophie and through a series of manoeuvures succeeds in helping her escape the entanglements of Ochs.  The Marschallin assists with the demise of Ochs and accepts the inevitability of her young lover leaving her for a younger woman.

Strauss and Hoffmansthal described the opera as a “comedy for music” in three acts but it is a complex work which deals with a range of social issues including class divisions and changing class structures; sexual attraction and gender identity (no doubt influenced by the work of Freud who was making quite an impact in Vienna around the time the opera was written); the changing roles of men and women in society; and how the passage of time and the fading of one’s looks can lead to transcience in love.  Strauss’ rich harmonic language illuminates the complex social points being made in an extraordinary way and he weaves a series of waltzes through the score to invigorate the action and to sound a note of bitter sweet nostalgia for the old Vienna.  While the elements in the opera were all present and correct in this production, I felt the focus was much more on getting broad laughs than in trying to unpick the complex web of social issues that thread through  the score.  It seems rather a pity that Richard Jones and his team have taken this approach as there is so much more to the work.

With regard to the evening’s performance, the balance was not quite right in the initial scene with the orchestra sounding too prominent and the singers more distant although the performers made adjustments as the night progressed and they got used to the difficult Albert Hall acoustic.  Tara Erraught was the strongest of the three sopranos and also the best actress.  She brought a strong romantic ardour to Octavian’s early scenes, a delicacy and tenderness to the silver rose scene and the final trio at the end, and a comic exuberance to the scene where she transformed into Mariandel, the buttoned up country girl.  I am still not entirely clear what led to some of the more caustic comments in the recent reviews – the most recent objection seems to be that Erraught was not convincing dramatically because she didn’t look good in her costume – but whatever the reasons her critics clearly need to have a rethink.  Kate Royal’s performance was something of a curate’s egg.  She did not have the rich, voluptuous tone that one normally associates with the Marschallin and in some of the early scenes she produced a rather pallid timbre and her diction was unclear.  However, she brought a warmth and sincerity to the wonderful Act 1 monologue where the Marschallin reflects on the passage of time, and a nicely judged restrained imperious quality to the final scene.

It was a clever move for Glyndebourne to parachute in Fanz Hawlata as Baron Ochs.  Hawlata has played the role in a number of major venues and he was a real trooper in the part bringing out the pomposity and lecherousness of the character and interacting brilliantly with the rest of the cast to give us some sparkling comedy (the end of Act 2 and the scene with Mariandel were both extremely good).  His intonation and diction were excellent throughout and he seemed to embody the character to perfection.  Louise Alder also made an impressive debut singing the role of Sophie – I understand she has understudied the part and the fact that she was able to hold her own in a packed Royal Albert hall shows that she is ready to take on principal roles.  There were moments of ethereal delicacy in the silver rose duet and there was some absolutely rapturous singing in the final trio.  Occassionally, Alder’s diction was not as clear as it could have been and there is scope for her to develop the character further but this was a strong performance.

The rest of the cast all did a great job with their roles with Andrej Dunaev and Michal Kraus being the two stand outs for me.  Dunaev brought an expressive richness and colour to his aria while Kraus sang with vocal authority and very clear diction.  Helene Schneiderman was also very strong in the role of Annina and I particularly enjoyed her duet with Ochs at the end of Act 2.

Robin Ticciati and the LPO did a fine job with Strauss’ orchestral score.  In the opening prelude there was a vigorous flurry of whooping sounds in the brass leaving us in no doubt about the uninhibited sexual romp taking place in the bedroom.  Ticciati was clearly seeking to make the textures as transparent as possible always a good objective to have in late Romantic music.  The chain of waltzes that are scattered through the score were delivered with aplomb while at the same time blending with and weaving around the elaborate vocal lines.  The LPO also created some lovely chamber ensembles to accompany the singers (flutes, harps and celesta in the silver rose scene and strings at the end of Act 2).

Overall, this was a stong production from the Glyndebourne Festival with the plaudits going to Ticcati and the LPO, Hawlata and Erraught.

 Robert Beattie


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