a highlights disc doesn’t necessarily give the same end-result
as reviewing the source complete set – at least as far as the
conductor’s contribution is concerned. For an opera like Rosenkavalier,
with its constant flow of music, its colour and contrapuntal
structure, the overall grip across long sections, even full
acts, is essential. On a highlights disc one gets only glimpses
and sensible tempos for the actual scenes and good support for
the singers is essential. By and large it is the singing that
counts more than anything else.
this well filled disc the producers have found a happy middle
course and chosen some central scenes that are of importance
to the unfolding of the plot as well as giving us the plums.
Thus we get the last 14½ minutes of the first act, the Presentation
of the Silver Rose (11½ mins), the finale of the act with Ochs
and Annina (11½ mins.) and the lovely finale of the opera with
the three leading women entwining their beautiful voices for
almost 13 mins. Within these scenes there are numerous cue points.
someone who grew up with Georg Solti’s legendary Decca recording
almost 40 years ago, Haitink can be a bit on the cool side.
Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic and one of the company’s
brightest and most dynamic recordings, grabbed you by the throat
and held you with an iron grip throughout. I have lost count
of how many times I sat – often with headphones late at night
– and marvelled at the energy and the flair of that reading.
At the same time the more contemplative scenes, of which there
are many, still felt relaxed. The genial Haitink in mellower
sound is less importunate but with the wonderful Dresden Staatskapelle
just as inviting; it was the predecessors of these musicians
who presented Strauss’s baby at the font back in 1911. He does
not put a foot wrong and there is a lot that feels instinctively
right. He has a cast that can challenge Solti’s, or that of
any other recorded Rosenkavalier. Yvonne Minton for Solti
and Christa Ludwig for Karajan (the two canonized recordings
of this opera) are excellent. However Anne-Sofie von Otter is
even more the Octavian of one’s dreams, in superb voice, giving
a many-faceted portrait of the young Count. When dressed up
as ‘Mariandl’ in the third act she doesn’t overdo the parody.
Everything feels ‘right’.
Te Kanawa has been criticized for lack of involvement in some
her operatic roles, and it is true that we miss the superb verbal
inflexions of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Karajan) but in her more
straightforward way she is still very appealing and believable
and she is as creamy of voice as ever. Regine Crespin (Solti)
is somewhere between these two – she was even better in the
highlights disc she recorded for Decca in the mid-1960s with
Silvio Varviso – but all three are outstanding. The only problem
with the Haitink recording is that von Otter and Te Kanawa are
so similar in timbre that it is sometimes, without a libretto,
hard to know who is singing. As Sophie, Rita Streich on Karl
Böhm’s DG recording, is hard to beat, even though the young
Helen Donath (Solti) runs her close, but I must say that Barbara
Hendricks is lovely too and this is, by some margin, her best
opera role on record.
Rydl in 1990 was a far more sonorous and steady singer than
he has been of late and his Ochs is fruity and expressive. In
the scene with Annina – well sung by Claire Powell – at the
end of act two he is so warm and human that one reluctantly
feels sorry for him. Richard Leech is a lyric Italian Tenor
in the reception scene in act one, much more in line with Strauss’s
intentions, I believe, than Pavarotti’s brilliant reading for
Solti. Leech is close to Nicolai Gedda, who was Karajan’s tenor
and must be regarded as the touchstone in this role.
is no text but a good synopsis and at the price this is a splendid
buy for anyone who doesn’t want a complete Rosenkavalier
– to begin with. Having heard these excerpts I suppose a lot
of purchasers will start saving up for a complete recording.
The cover picture, by the way, is Alfred Roller’s design for
the Marschallin’s bedroom in act one for the Dresden premiere
in 1911. This was also the original cover of the Solti recording.