Richard Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier
Robin Ticciati, Richard Jones, Kate Royal, Tara Erraught, Lars Woldt, Teodora Gheorghiu, Michael Kraus, Miranda Keys, Christopher Gillett, Helene Schneiderman, Gwynne Howell, Andrej Dunaev, Robert Wörle, Scott Conner
Opus Arte - Blu-ray
It's unfortunate that the controversy over personal comments made by critics about the casting of Tara Erraught's Octavian tended to overshadow what is actually a very impressive and well-performed Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne 2014. Strauss's opera is about so much more than a singer and a performance. It's a work of extraordinary richness, sophistication and complexity, transcending any traditional view of what opera is about, and it requires careful direction to draw all the various levels of meaning out of it and bring the wonderful contrasts of performance together. Richard Jones directs an elegant production of the opera, beautifully conceived and designed, that at least touches on its multiple delights, even if it doesn't bring anything greatly original to the stage.
It might seem like a trivial concern, but what is immediately striking about the production was the impeccable taste of the interior design that create a loving sense of the period without being slavishly literal. Paul Steinberg's sets for each of the three acts are eye-catchingly colourful and elegant, but minimally dressed in a way that complements without overwhelming the drama, the sentiments and the personalities in the opera. Richard Jones' actual direction of the drama was a little less adventurous, but well-pitched to match the flow between farce and philosophy. Der Rosenkavalier however is so layered and meticulously constructed a work that it doesn't really need any further elaborations or interpretations imposed upon it.
Act I plays out in a pretty much as it is written. There were a few distinctive directorial touches, but they only serve to enhance what is already there in the work. Instead of the usual crude bump and grind that accompanies Strauss' suggestive overture, Jones instead emphasises the erotic charge of Octavian's desire for the more mature woman by showing Marschallin emerging naked from a stylised shower and displaying herself to the bewitched young man. Elsewhere, the first act is mostly played as a straightforward bedroom farce, acted with verve and certainly well-sung, but with no great character or originality.
The suggestions are all there however that there is something of greater depth being explored. A prominent clock alerts the viewer to real-time aspect of Act I, as well as recognising the importance of the passing of time and the ending of an era as a theme, but it doesn't take it much further than this. The subsequent acts however find other subtle means in both set design and the expression of the drama to highlight the conflict between the past, the present and the future. A distinction is drawn between the traditional aristocratic privilege of the past, the rise of the nouveau riche bourgeoisie in the present, and the freedom of youth as the future, unbound by anything but love and free to choose their own destiny.
Within such change is the capacity for both sadness and optimism (with some fun in-between), and the production successfully finds the appropriate tone for each situation. The work itself and the production is at its best in those key moments in each of the three acts. The Marschallin's reverie over time and ageing at the end of Act I is beautifully sung by Kate Royal. It's not despairing, but dignified, the nobility of her sentiments and recognition of the ways of the world allowing her to bring reconciliation at the key moment of Act III in the gorgeous trio. In between it's the Act II meeting of Octavian and Sophie that makes the greatest impression. The encounter (lushly orchestrated) is caught up in a rush of colour and sugar that you could almost swoon with pleasure. That's the impression the moment should evoke and with such an emphasis it determines the overall tone of the production as one where love and beauty are celebrated and the outlook is an optimistic one.
That's about as much of a directorial position as Jones takes on the Glyndebourne production. It's a bit of a designer's doll-house of a set-design and the figures are threatened with being a little dwarfed by the greater scheme of things. That's a risk that is inherently in Strauss and Hofmannsthal's conception of Der Rosenkavalier, and if the characters emerge from it as more meaningfully human, it's on account of the beautiful writing of the score for the drama and for the voice. You won't find the finest interpretation of any of those roles here - at least not in any way that is revelatory - but it's at least very well performed.
The female leads at least are impressive. Royal is suitably elegant and sings with feeling, but doesn't quite capture the melancholy of Marschallin's position. Teodora Gheorghiu is a bright Sophie and forms a good partnership with Tara Erraught's Octavian. It's true that Erraught is more Mariandel than Octavian pretending to be Mariandel in Act III, but a girl playing a boy playing a girl is just one of the complexities of this work that it is difficult to carry off without considerably more experience. The appalling wig and sideburns she wears doesn't help, but in terms of her singing and her ability to carry the central role of Octavian, there is nothing here that was anything less than convincing. Inevitably, with such strong singers in these roles, the trio at the denouement was simply gorgeous in delivery of the singing and its sentiments.
Lars Woldt sings an entertaining and unrepentant Ochs von Lerchenau. A director can permit a little sympathy for the character if he shows some belated good grace in his defeat, but Richard Jones doesn't give him that much. Michael Kraus' Faninal is also well-sung, but a bit dull and doesn't make much of an impression. Musically, however, there is nothing run-of-the-mill about Robin Ticciati's conducting of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. If the concept doesn't inspire any greatness, it at least allows expression of the full beauty of the arrangements, wonderfully controlled by the conductor. For the listener too, this is a Der Rosenkavalier to put aside any examination of the work's cleverness or any distracting controversy surrounding the production and simply revel in its glorious beauty.
Richard Jones' colourful production inevitably looks stunning in High Definition on the Blu-ray. The lighting is well handled, the image perfectly clear and warmly toned. The DTS HD-Master Audio and PCM Stereo tracks can be a little echoing with the use of stagge microphones rather than radio mics, but the quality of the singing and the musical performance is apparent. The extra features include Ticciati talking about taking over at Glyndebourne and working on his first Der Rosenkavalier, the leading ladies interviewed about building their characters and their Act III trio, and Richard Jones talks about the look and design for the production. The BD is region-free, with subtitles in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.