Der Rosenkavalier, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, June 2017Posted on 5 June 2017
The recent cinema screening of Robert Carsen’s Rosenkavalier production (London and NY) shows a subtle emphasis on the passing of time, and this production takes a similar viewpoint but in a more overt manner. Judging by most of the costumes, the setting is presumably about 1911 when the opera was written and the passing of old certainties was beginning to herald an ill-defined future.
Excellent programme notes emphasise the feeling, with an excerpt from Joseph Roth’s great novel The Radetzky March about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the front-drop at the start shows a verse from a long poem by Rilke, “Ich verrinne, ich verrinne/ wie Sand, der durch Finger rinnt“. (I am wasting, wasting away/ like sand running through fingers). There is even a translation of the Marschallin’s Act I soliloquy “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbares Ding” (Time, it is an extraordinary thing) when she muses to Octavian about sometimes hearing it passing unceasingly, and getting up in the middle of the night to stop all the clocks.
To make sure the audience doesn’t miss the point, director Olivia Fuchs has sand dripping from ceilings in much of Act I, piled in the corners and fireplace in Act II with oval shadows sliding down the walls, and sand dripping again in Act III. An actress representing the Marschallin in her nineties provides further emphasis, but the interactions between the two is overkill, and when she reappeared during the prologue to Act III my heart sank, knowing she would re-enter for the trio at the end. She did.
Act II, without this ghost of the future, was a delight, with servants dancing to the glorious waltz music that accompanies their master, the boorish Baron Ochs. As the central character in the opera — its working title was once ‘Ochs von Lerchenau’ — Brindley Sherratt gave a fine bass account of this irascible country cousin to the more refined Marchallin, sung by a warm and sympathetic Rebecca Evans showing a troubled insecurity. As Octavian her lover, Canadian mezzo Lucia Cervoni sang superbly while exhibiting the natural persona of a young man, and as his future partner, and Ochs’s proposed means to a comfortable income, Louise Alder made a delightful Sophie with lovely high notes.
Joyous and assertive conducting from Tomáš Hanus, the Company’s new music director, and fine performances in lesser roles such as those of the co-conspirators Annina and Valzacchi (Madeleine Shaw and Peter van Hulle), and a low-key representation of Sophie’s father Faninal by Adrian Clarke. Pity the director presented Ochs’s chief servant Leopold as such a buffoon, but this was a co-production with Theater Magdeburg in Germany where directors tend to hit you over the head with their concepts to make sure you get whatever point they are trying to make. In Britain it can be the case that less is more, though Olivia Fuchs ought to know this since she did much of her training here. Preferable perhaps to cut some of the extraneous staging rather than the music, but what a beautifully sung trio at the end. Exquisite.
Performances continue on June 10 and 17 at the Wales Millennial Centre in Cardiff, and on July 1 at the Birmingham Hippodrome — for details click here.