Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
Evelyn Lear (soprano) - Feldmarschallin; Jules Bastin (bass) - Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau; Frederica von Stade (mezzo) - Octavian; Derek Hammond-Stroud (baritone) - Herr von Faninal; Ruth Welting (soprano) - Sophie; Nelly Morpurgo (mezzo) - Marianne; James Atherton (tenor) - Valzacchi; Sophia van Sante contralto) - Annina; José Carreras (tenor) - A Singer; Henk Smit (bass-baritone) - A Police Officer; Wouter Goedhardt (tenor) - Major-Domo to the Marschallin; Matthijs Coppens (tenor) - Major-Domo to Faninal; Henk Smit (bass-baritone) - An Attorney; Adriaan van Limpt (tenor) - A Landlord; Renée van Haarlem (soprano) - A Milliner; Matthijs Coppens (tenor) - An Animal Seller
Netherlands Opera Chorus, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Edo de Waart
rec. June and July 1976, Holland Festival
Historical notes and quite extensive synopsis enclosed. Libretto available online.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9248 [3 CDs: 75:57 + 62:07 + 68:16]
When this recording was issued on Philips in the late 1970s it wasn’t too positively received, at least not in Gramophone, which was my reference in those days. Unfortunately I don’t have access to that review any longer. Some years ago when Gramophone under the header ‘Archive’ on their home page made all the back issues since 1923 available, I disposed of my annual volumes collected since the early 1970s but filling, after almost forty years, several metres of shelf space. Now that free access has ceased and been supplanted by subscription. I do miss my old volumes!
Coming fresh to this budget price issue, albeit somewhat prejudiced through the rather dim memory of the review, I at once became positively inclined. This was thanks to the good recording - I can’t recall a really bad Philips recording from this period - the lush playing of the excellent Rotterdam Philharmonic and Edo de Waart’s fresh and youthful conducting. He was in his mid-thirties when this was made and his music-making bristles with enthusiasm. He can also linger lovingly over the many beautiful pages of this score. Just listen to how he caresses the ‘love music’ at the end of the prelude, leading over to the erotically charged first scene of the opera with Octavian and the Marschallin in the latter’s bedchamber. The music almost comes to a stand-still and one gets time to draw a deep breath before the imaginary curtain rises and the rose-cheeked (just my imagination!) Octavian sings Wie du warst! Wie du bist! Octavian is Frederica von Stade and I can’t think of anyone challenging her. Still the competition is formidable: Sena Jurinac (Erich Kleiber), Christa Ludwig (Karajan I), Irmgard Seefried (Böhm), Yvonne Minton (Solti), Agnes Baltsa (Karajan II) and Anne Sophie von Otter (Haitink). They are all tremendously good but von Stade has that extra ounce of sensuality that makes one understand the Feldmarschallin’s fascination. Frederica von Stade was also the superior Cherubino of her time, recording the role complete twice: for Karajan and Solti.
In many a performance of Der Rosenkavalier it is the Feldmarschallin that dominates; this in spite of her total absence during the second act and her rather brief appearance at the end of the opera. Schwarzkopf overshadows everybody else in the Karajan recording, Régine Crespin, though less knowing than Schwarzkopf, rules the Solti recording through her creamy tones and slightly subdued reading. Here von Stade makes it clear that the title of the opera is Der Rosenkavalier. The presentation of the silver rose, one of the most magical moments in all opera, has never been so enchanting. The confrontation with Ochs later in the second act is filled with youthful rebellion and in the last act, disguised as Mariandel, she avoids too much parody, which only enhances the dignity of the young nobleman. The concluding trio and duet is also riveting.
Evelyn Lear, who died in July this year (2012) had a long and distinguished career. In the 1960s she recorded for Deutsche Grammophon Die Zauberflöte (Pamina), Wozzeck (Marie) and Lulu (the title role), all three with Karl Böhm. It was through these recordings that I learnt those works. Like Elisabeth Söderström she sang all three leading female roles in Der Rosenkavalier, die Feldmarschallin from 1971. This was also her farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1985. Neither as detailed as Schwarzkopf nor as creamy as Crespin hers is still a compelling reading, beautifully and sensitively sung. Just listen to her, before embracing Octavian in the very first scene, Du bist mein Bub, du bist mein Schatz! Ich hab’ dich lieb! Lovely singing, one believes in her. Throughout the Act she etches a truly gripping portrait of the ageing - well, she is supposed to be 34! - Marschallin, crowning it with a magical Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding’ (CD 1 tr. 14).
Ruth Welting’s Sophie is not quite in the same class. She is bright-toned and technically accomplished but she lacks the warmth and the ethereal top notes of Güden, Donath, Bonney and Streich. On the other hand she blends well with von Stade in the central presentation of the silver rose. In the concluding trio and duet she is also up to the mark.
Jules Bastin’s Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau is not as burlesque as some. His timbre is lighter than most of his competitors and this, combined with his somewhat toned-down reading makes Ochs a much more likeable character than he actually is. Da geht er hin, der aufgeblasne schlechte Kerl, the Marschallin sings when the Baron walks out in the first act. Having just heard Edelmann (Karajan) or Böhme (Böhm) or Jungwirth (Solti) one wholeheartedly agrees. Here though one shrugs a bit and murmurs: ‘All right, he’s a bit rude but never mind.’ Being Belgian Bastin has anyway adopted some Viennese dialect and though his lighter voice allows him to sings the highest notes brilliantly without strain he still has the bottom range as well, amply demonstrated in the act II finale. There Sophia van Sante is a good Annina and her partner Valzacchi is eagerly performed by James Atherton. Derek Hammond-Stroud does what he can with Herr von Faninal. Long before the “Three Tenors” they each took on the cameo role of the Italian singer, Pavarotti for Solti, Domingo for Bernstein and Carreras for de Waart. Stylistically none of them is ideal, for that one has to go to Gedda (Karajan) or Dermota (Erich Kleiber). Carreras is however in glorious voice and those who buy the set for his sake will not be disappointed. Do bear in mind that he sings for little more than three minutes.
A first choice for this opera has to be Karajan I or Solti or, if you are satisfied with elderly mono sound, Erich Kleiber who also is the most Viennese of all. Even so, I doubt that anyone buying the Edo de Waart set on impulse will be seriously disappointed and he/she gets the best Octavian of any set.
Göran Forsling
Lush, fresh and youthful. 

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