Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier - opera in three acts (1911)
Marschallin - Cheryl Barker (soprano)
Octavian - Catherine Carby (mezzo)
Baron Ochs - Manfred Hemm (bass)
Sophie - Emma Pearson (soprano)
Faninal - Warwick Fyfe (baritone)
Annina - Jacqueline Dark (mezzo)
Valzacchi - Andrew Brunsdon (tenor)
Marianne - Teresa La Rocca (soprano)
Italian tenor - Henry Choo (tenor)
Police Commissioner/Notary - Stephen Bennett (bass)
Major-Domo/Landlord - Graeme Macfarlane (tenor)
Milliner - Chloris Bath (soprano)
Animal seller - Dean Bennett (tenor)
Opera Australia Chorus
Australian Opera Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Brian FitzGerald (director)
rec. 13, 19 October 2010, Sydney Opera House
Format: Classical, Colour, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: German (DTS 5.1), German (PCM Stereo)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Italian
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

At the centre of Richard Strauss's achievement is the opera Der Rosenkavalier (Dresden, 1911), whose plot is a sophisticated love story set in 18th century Vienna. Indeed, the composer went so far as to declare his intention 'to write a Mozart opera'. The setting in the Austrian capital of the Empress Maria Theresa allowed an anachronistic employment of the Viennese waltz, which lies at the very heart of the score, conjuring a nostalgia for an idealised and more stylish age.
The orchestration of Der Rosenkavalier is as opulent as the décor of the Marschallin's boudoir in which the opera opens. The score is also rich melodically, though Strauss was anxious that his music should not be vulgarised, and wished to emphasise lightness and flowing tempi: 'Mozart, not Lehár' was his advice to performers. Thus the concert suite from the opera, whose scoring remains largely unaltered, confirms the composer's orchestral mastery, as well as the central importance of the imagery of the waltz.
This live recording from Sydney Opera House, taken from two performances in October 2010, seems to succeed in recapturing the atmosphere of what must have been a special occasion. The cast both looks and sounds well, with costumes to match. As the Marschallin Cheryl Barker is both beautiful and dignified, and she works well with her Octavian, Catherine Carby, who is convincingly youthful whether in the main ‘breeches’ aspect of her role or whether disguised as Mariandel the servant girl whom Baron Ochs attempts to seduce. It is a complicated business: a female singer in a travesty male role who is in turn disguised as a servant girl. In this production it works a treat.
Another reason these things work so well is the interpretation of the boorish Baron Ochs by Manfred Hemm. He and his lackeys make an effective and entertaining team too, but he is never quite in control of any of the situations he tries to engineer. The acting is very successful on the whole, though perhaps there are a few too many stock gestures when it comes to the plotting and counter-plotting involving Annina and Valzacchi.
The costuming of the production, and the décor too, seem just right for the music and its style. The pacing of the drama is well handled, even though one wonders whether the conductor Andrew Litton will be able to maintain the burst of energy with which he throws himself and the orchestra into the prelude. The filming concentrates on the activity in the pit, while breaking off near the beginning to show a roll-call of the cast while the music proceeds. This works well enough because it is not over-indulged; something that might be said of Strauss’s prelude itself, which is less than four minutes long.
The concept at the heart of the production is true to the nature of the opera, and the opulence is well captured in every regard. The scene of the Marschallin’s coiffure for example, featuring the appearance of the Italian tenor (well sung by Henry Choo), is splendidly done, with the smaller roles making their contribution dramatically while the main musical interest is in the entertainment provided by the tenor. Likewise the formality of the Presentation of the Silver Rose looks and sounds just as it should: the release of the tensions that have been building up, and a memorable moment both visually and musically. At every stage the sound is clear and well balanced, both in the recording itself and in Andrew Litton’s command of these large-scale forces.
However, any performance of Rosenkavalier must stand or fall on its final scene. This is static and can hardly be other than that, so it is the quality of Strauss’s music and his peerless ability to write for the soprano voice that must be paramount. Cheryl Barker, Catherine Carby and Emma Pearson (as Sophie) sound wonderful, and they look wonderful too. If this new Rosenkavalier from Sydney does not eclipse the standing of the great performance conducted by Carlos Kleiber (DG 073 4072) it is a DVD that will bring much pleasure to lovers of this wonderful opera.
Terry Barfoot 

This live recording recaptures the atmosphere of what must have been a special occasion.

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