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Felicity Lott (sop), Anne Sophie von Otter (mezzo), Barbara Bonney (sop), Kurt Moll (bass), Gottfried Hornik (bar)
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Carlos Kleiber
DG 073 008-9, 2 DVDs [75.09; 117.15] Full Price
 £29.99  AmazonUK £27.99

Carlos Kleiber has conducted Der Rosenkavalier more times than any other opera - mostly in German opera houses (although New York and London performances have been startling). The videos which have previously been released of Kleiber conducting Strauss's most captivating opera (notably a fine 1979 Bavarian production by Otto Schenk) in part recall his father's famous recording of the work: in both cases father and son bring to this score indelible warmth and sunniness. This 1994 Vienna production, previously available on Laser Disc, is everything one could hope for, and more. It simply shows that Carlos Kleiber has no rival in Strauss' most popular masterpiece.

The Vienna performance is of the same Otto Schenk production that Kleiber conducted in Munich, albeit with a different set designer, in this case, Rudolf Heinrich. Schenk's production eschews any modern-day tampering with the period setting of the opera concentrating instead on bringing out the glowing beauty of the detail. If there is a slight problem with Heinrich's set designs it is that they seem to emphasise the claustrophobia of the stage. Ceilings seem perilously low and the lightness of the stage colouring rather than opening up space seems to work to the contrary. That said, the stage remains uncluttered with only minimal inner sets - a wise move since it concentrates the eye on the performers. Costume and lighting reflect the radiance of the score - and the interpretation.

And what a radiantly sung and played performance this is. Felicity Lott, who replaces Gwyneth Jones from the Bavarian production, is an almost ideal Marschallin. Elegant and striking on set she is a dominant figure - statuesque like a Dresden figurine. The beauty of her phrasing is never an issue, her dialogue with Octavian gorgeously intimate. The trio with Octavian and Sophie is intense in the most rapt way. Anne Sophie von Otter, as Octavian, is sublime and Barbara Bonney is, in terms of demeanour and age, perfect for the part of Sophie. Both singers bring charismatic plausibility to the story - with Otter ardent, chivalrous and impetuous and Bonney witty and charming (and no more so than when disguised as Mariandel). Kurt Moll is a magnificent Baron Ochs - one of the most boorish I can recall.

Carlos Kleiber encourages the Vienna Philharmonic to play with a transparency and beauty perfect for this score. Nowhere are Kleiber and the orchestra better than in the Viennese waltzes, which have a bubbling sensuousness of rhythm which makes them utterly magical. It is lavish playing by any definition. We do see Kleiber in the pit - at the opening of each act of the work and his conducting is as relaxed as one would expect, his beat precise yet flexible. His mastery is total.

If there is one drawback to this performance it is that each act ends in curtain calls and prolonged applause. It rather breaks the spell of the performance. Rather oddly, there are no curtain calls at the close of the work - with the DVD ending highly abruptly. Deutsche Grammophon's tendency at the moment is to produce booklets which tell us nothing about the performance (or performers) whatsoever. We simply get a scene-by-scene analysis of the plot - and little else.

This is not the only DVD available of Strauss's masterpiece - there is a 1997 Italian production from the Theatro Massimo in Palermo available in the US, but it is a rather shabby and badly sung performance. Kleiber's performance is unlikely to be surpassed - even if DG decide to release the video version of Karajan's later performance of the opera on DVD - so take this as being the definitive version to have. It is ideal in almost every respect, and a worthy companion to Erich Kleiber's Decca recording on CD. In father and son we have the alpha and omega of Strauss's most sublime work.

Marc Bridle

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