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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier

The Marschallin - Kiri te Kanawa
Octavian - Anne Howells
Baron Ochs of Lerchenau - Aage Haugland
Sophie Faninal - Barbara Bonney
Major Domo to the Marschallin - Kim Begley
Notary - John Gibbs
Valzacchi - Robert Tear
Anina - Cynthia Buchan
Singer - Dennis O’Neill
Herr von Faninal - Jonathan Summers
Marianne - Phyllis Cannan
Major Domo to Faninal - John Dobson
Host - Paul Crook
Police Commisar - Roderick Earle
The Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Georg Solti
Director: John Schlesinger
Directed for video by Brian Large
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 1985
WARNER MUSIC VISION 0630-19391-2 [197:00 approx]

Rosenkavalier is sometimes unfairly portrayed as one of the high-points of sentimental kitsch. To me this is quite misguided, and ignores emotional complexity of this opera, which deals sensitively, and ultimately very poignantly, with some uncomfortable emotions – awareness of growing old, ending a cherished affair and tooth-grinding humiliation ... to name but three. This Covent Garden performance has transferred to video and DVD remarkably successfully, partly because the singing and acting of the principals is so good, but chiefly because conductor Georg Solti finds an excellent balance between sharp characterisation and sumptuous romance; between wit and mischief on the one hand and profound feelings on the other. Though sensitive to its beauties, Solti keeps the music moving along, never becoming sloppy or over-indulgent.

The production captures Kiri te Kanawa at her very best. She sounds and looks wonderful, and embodies the role with total commitment, in a way that is ultimately very moving. She conveys superbly the transition of the Marschallin from a playfully voracious lover when the curtain goes up on Act I, via her profound meditation on advancing age at the close of that same act, all the way to the self-sacrifice she offers to Octavian and Sophie at the end of Act III. I would love to think – and it’s perfectly possible to believe - that the tears visible on her cheeks at the end of Act I are completely genuine and innocent of any chemical stimulation!

Anne Howells as Octavian presents a bit of a problem. She is vocally very fine, but not in the top league, along with say Ludwig on Karajan’s 1950s recording, or von Otter for Kleiber on DG and Haitink on EMI. Under the close scrutiny of DVD, she looks all wrong too – very obviously a woman, not a teenage boy, though she certainly appears more convincing in her Act II garb as the Knight of the Rose.

Barbara Bonney, on the other hand, is just perfect. She inhabits Sophie’s very high tessitura without the slightest sign of strain, produces the most gorgeous tone, and manages to suggest simultaneously the vulnerability and strength of character of this girl poised on the edge of womanhood. Her moments with Te Kanawa near the end of the opera are supremely memorable and touching.

Haugland makes an excellent Ochs, the country-bumpkin/parvenu who gets his come-uppance-with-knobs-on in Act III. There are walk-on parts by distinguished artists such as Robert Tear as Valzacchi and Cynthia Buchan as his co-conspirator Anina, while Dennis O’Neill deals splendidly with the poisoned chalice of The Singer in Act I (potentially a tenor’s graveyard, two minutes of molto con belto, replete with top Cs, and no time even to collect a round of applause!). Jonathan Summers as Faninal, however, looks and sounds too youthfully healthy for an ageing man supposedly on the point of collapse.

Schlesinger’s production keeps the action taut, matching the qualities and approach of Solti’s conducting. The whole thing has that invaluable live feeling, which makes it so preferable to the ‘on location’ opera DVDs that abound at present. Thus Carmen strolling round Sevilla, while the voice she is miming to very obviously emerges from a studio hundreds of miles away, reducing the whole thing to the level of a pop video. This DVD of Strauss’s best loved opera is an unforgettable musical and visual experience.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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