Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne, May 2014Posted on 18 May 2014
Glyndebourne’s 80th anniversary festival, dedicated to the late Sir George Christie, son of the founder and the man who built the present opera house, opened just ten days after his death. His son Gus came onstage at the start to offer a tribute to his ‘dear old Dad’, and in honour of the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss the season opened with Rosenkavalier.
In the hands of director Richard Jones this Mozartian mixture of depth and playfulness showed rather more playfulness than depth. Its strong comedy element suited the excellent Baron Ochs sung by Lars Woldt, whose booming voice commanded the stage like no other. His boorish presence was never over the top, and some of the outrageous behaviour was performed by his servant Leopold, a Geert Wilders look-alike who repeatedly lifts Sophie onto the table in Act II. This is after Ochs has surveyed her physical attributes as one might a horse, and the production suggested some sort of bidding by men seated at the table.
The Sophie of Teodora Gheorghiu was a delight, so young, so bravely terrified of the Royal connections to her future husband’s family, and when she sings of her mother being dead, just before the servants catch sight of the Rosenkavalier’s arrival, I felt tears well up. So too with Kate Royal as the Marschallin in Act I, full of vocal feeling in tranquil moments, and when she sings “Die Zeit, …” and talks of getting up in the night to stop the clocks, the orchestra under the ever-sensitive baton of Robin Ticciati played with huge clarity as it chimed the inevitable flow of time. Marschallins in large opera houses are often strongly-voiced singers of reasonably mature years, yet in the minds of Strauss and Hofmannsthal she was about thirty, and Kate Royal played the part beautifully.
Act I starts with a lovely vignette. We see in the bathroom a statue with water showering from above while Octavian is recumbent on the floor. A servant leaves, and the statue moves an arm. It is the Marschallin toute nue, who then dons a gown, displaying her charms to her young lover. After this wonderful start the production moves into a Gianni Schicchi-like comedy, where for instance the excellent voice and stage presence of Michael Kraus as Sophie’s father Faninal was used for a slightly over the top portrayal. Lovely vocal vignettes too from Andrej Dunaev as the Italian tenor in Act I, and Scott Conner as the Police Inspector in Act III.
Superb singing from Tara Erraught as Octavian, though the director might have helped more in terms of costume and movement for this character, rather than emphasising the Marschallin’s charms by representing her servant Mohammed as a young man besotted by her presence, sniffing her clothing and listening at a half-open door during the trio.
In short, Richard Jones has slightly added to the story while losing some of the delicious tension that should abound, particularly in the later part of Act III. The entrance of the Marschallin is a great theatrical moment, yet it was spoiled by her dreadful dress and the directorial trickery of clashing colours and lighting for the final scene. Lovely trio, though, and in their final duets, Sophie and Octavian showed a beautiful interweaving of vocal lines.
Performances continue on various dates until July 3, with a live cinema screening on June 8 — for details click here.