It is not hard to understand why Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier
is so popular. The combination of sharp, witty comedy counterpointed
by heartbreaking pathos, all wrapped up in a framework of luscious music,
has been enthralling audiences world-wide since it was first premiered
in Dresden in 1911. The fact that it has taken over 90 years to reach
New Zealand is harder to grasp, so full marks to the New Zealand Festival
for mounting the first ever production here. As with previous opera
performances the Festival has brought together an international cast
and production team and the results were of the highest standards.
Gale Edward's production was at its most successful
in dealing with the varying emotions of the three principal
protagonists - the ageing, but hardly old, Marschallin, her
youthful lover Octavian and beautiful ingénue Sophie von Faninal.
Yvonne Kenny's finely portrayed Marschallin moved effortlessly
from playful lover to the almost matriarchal acceptance
that Octavian's life will be with Sophie and not herself. Strauss requested
of his Marschallin that "one eye be moist, and the other dry", and Kenny
achieved this to perfection.
If her voice lacks the vocal richness of some
of her illustrious predecessors, Kenny's assumption of
the role was nevertheless of the highest international standards.
Louise Winter and Miah Persson gave equally
convincing performances as Octavian and Sophie. Persson's stunning good
looks and crystal clear voice made her an ideal Sophie. There was
no wonder that the Marschallin felt a little jealous!
Less effective was the comic side of the production.
Alan Ewing was singing Ochs for the first time and needed a little more
time to immerse himself into this most Viennese of roles. Nevertheless
his robust singing and strong stage presence left a favourable impression.
Perhaps Ewing needed better direction, and this could also be said of
the hangers on that make up much of the comic side of this opera. Despite
very witty costumes by Roger Kirk the levée scene never really
came to life on the opening night, and there were also flat moments
in the second and third acts. This was a shame with such assured singing
actors as Richard Greager and Helen Medlyn in the roles of Valzacchi
Brian Thomson's sets were elegantly simple
and stylish, avoiding the excesses of the Baroque period. It was an
interesting idea that the Faninals were still unpacking in Act 2. Unfortunately
the production deserved much better lighting. Footlights may have been
in vogue in the 18th Century, when there was little else on offer in
terms of illumination, but there seemed little reason to resurrect them
here. The incessant shadows became increasingly annoying after the initial
effect wore off, and constantly distracted from the main action on the
John Keenan squeezed Viennese
passion out of the NZ Symphony Orchestra reaching musical perfection
in the final trio and duet. The three ladies combined for a rapturous
performance of this most beautiful music, perhaps some of the finest
ever written. Hopefully we will not have to wait another 90 years to
hear it again in New Zealand.
© Michael Sinclair
is the editor of The Opera Critic