Opera North Does Full Justice to McVicar’s Production of Rosenkavalier

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North / Aleksandar Markovic (conductor), The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. 9.11.2016. (RJF)

Ylva Kihlberg as The Marschallin and Helen Sherman as Octavian. Photo credit: Robert Workman.
Ylva Kihlberg (The Marschallin) and Helen Sherman (Octavian) (c) Robert Workman.

Marschallin: Ylva Kihlberg
Octavian: Helen Sherman
Baron Ochs: Henry Waddington
Sophie von Faninal: Fflur Wyn
Herr von Faninal: William Dazeley
Marianne: Victoria Sharp
Valzacchi: Aled Hall
Annina: Helen Évora
Italian Tenor: Jung Soo Yun
Police Commissioner: Dean Robinson
Marschallin’s Major-Domo: Graham Russell
Faninal’s Major-Domo: Ivan Sharpe
Notary: Jeremy Peaker
Innkeeper: David Llewellyn
Three Noble Orphans: Rachel Mosley, Cordelia Fish, Hazel Croft
Pet Seller: Warren Gillespie
Dressmaker: Miranda Bevin

Original Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall
Set Designer: David McVicar
Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin

In his introductory note to the programme, Richard Mantle, General Director of Opera North, does not shy away from the reason why this opera does not feature more regularly in Opera North’s repertoire, costs and casting being at the forefront. I do not know who owns the physical bits and pieces, or the performing rights, of this well travelled production; it was first seen in Scotland in 1999, in Opera North’s 2002 season and more recently at English National Opera in 2012. I welcome its revival on this occasion for the pleasure of seeing an opera performed in a manner the composer would recognise with respect to the sets and costumes – unlike many of the productions seen around Europe with their current predilection for concept and Regietheater which has spread to the UK and may be contributing to declining opera audiences in some UK theatres. In the latter respect it is pleasing to report a healthy audience at The Lowry, though it might be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder! My theory might be put to the test as early as this coming Friday evening when Opera North’s autumn programme includes with two of Puccini’s triptych operas, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, the former being set in what I have seen describes as a skip in a warehouse and certainly nothing like a boat moored on the Seine in Paris, and the latter updated to the present day despite the fact that illegitimacy is not viewed as it was a century or more ago.

My pleasure at the delights of the sets, costumes and production were largely, but not wholly, reinforced by the musical standards in the pit and on the stage. New musical director Aleksandar Markovic was inclined to overplay the music in Act One and drown out his Marschallin, Ylva Kihlberg. Already seen in two productions for Opera North, her physically elegant stature is not near Wagnerian vocal strength as might have matched the orchestra in act one of this performance. As it was the orchestral textures, the conductor’s verve and The Lowry’s acoustic overwhelmed any enjoyment this Marschallin might have had from the attentions of her lover, also somewhat overwhelmed vocally. Miss Kihlberg came more into her own in Act Three when her physical and vocal strengths were heard, seen and more fully appreciated, not least aided by a most elegant costume. As in Act One she looked more like a mid thirties beauty than an ageing, pre-menopausal cougar. As her young lover, seventeen years old in the libretto, Helen Sherman was also drowned out too often in Act One; however, she has many more opportunities to shine in the later two acts and did so both in respect of her singing and also in her acted interpretation of the situations needed as both the eponymous Rosenkavalier and more so as Mariendel, the object of Baron Ochs’ arrogant aristocratic lecherous old roué when her acting was outstanding.

Richard Mantle, in his programme note also refers to the close and regular relationship of many of the cast with Opera North. This is certainly true of the likes of Fflur Wyn as the virginal Sophie von Faninal, designated to be old roué Baron Ochs’ bit of female flesh and frolic and superbly sung and acted by Henry Waddington. Along with William Dazeley, as Sophie’s scheming father, keen to join his more aristocratic peers even at the cost of his daughter’s future happiness, let alone her virginity, all three singing and acting superbly. Their contributions are among the most significant of the evening and illuminate the sometimes more abstruse goings on, particularly the relevance of some of the longeurs in Act Three and which contribute to a long evening not always sustained by the composer’s inspiration.

The costumes are not merely in period but sumptuous to a fault, really making one feel that this was a real night at the opera. Even the manipulative Valzacchi and Annina, Aled Hall and Helen Évora, are involved and costumed to a perfection matched by their interpretations. Jung Soo Yun’s plangently sung Italian Tenor added to his slowly growing, but worthwhile, Opera North assumptions.

Robert J Farr

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