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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
Octavian – Sophie Koch
Marschallin – Krassimira Stoyanova
Sophie – Mojca Erdmann
Baron Ochs – Günther Groissböck
Faninal – Adrian Eröd
Marianne – Silvana Dussmann
Valzacchi – Rudolf Schasching
Annina – Wiebke Lekhmuhl
Italian Tenor – Stefan Pop
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoper
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Harry Kupfer (director)
rec. live, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 8-14 August 2014
Picture Format 16:9
PCM Stereo & DTS-HD MA 5.0
Region Code 0
C MAJOR Blu-ray 719404 [215:00]

I watched this film very shortly after watching the DVD of Glyndebourne’s 2014 Rosenkavalier (review). The two productions ran almost concurrently, and they were both their festival’s contribution to the Strauss anniversary year. Consequently, comparisons were unavoidable, if perhaps unfair. This Salzburg performance wins hands down.

Harry Kupfer’s stylish production sets the action in or around 1911, the year of the opera’s composition. Richard Jones does something similar for Glyndebourne. Kupfer does it with much more conviction, rooting himself much more firmly in his chosen period, and thus turning it into a bittersweet evocation of a lost era, rather than the half-hearted parody that Jones produces. The sets are skeletal and elegant, props and sets gliding noiselessly on and off stage to evoke moods or to change scenes. The monochromatic palette seems to suggest the world of early silent cinema. The costumes gently evoke the fin-de-siècle, while Faninal’s house is full of fashionable Jugendstil furniture that would have been highly fashionable among the contemporary Viennese nouveau riche. Within this setting, Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s characters are brought to resounding life. Octavian’s boyishness defies the staid world of the late Habsburg nobility into which he was born, while the Marschallin is full of condescension, generosity and, importantly, grace. Faninal is an uptight social climber, while Sophie’s girlish energy seems to challenge her surroundings every bit as much as Octavian does.

The cast of singers are all thoroughly on top of their game, looking the part as well as sounding it. Krassimira Stoyanova’s Marschallin oozes class, right down to the fur cuffs on her dressing gown. She conducts herself with palpable dignity for every moment she is on stage, most poignantly at the end of Act 1 where she simply freezes in contemplation. Her voice is rich, pearly and full of style, perfect for this part. I was continually astounded by the way she acts with her voice, such as the slight air of superiority that sets her above Octavian in their scene at the start of Act 1. The end of that act is her finest moment, and a slight touch of panic creeps tellingly into her voice in the scene where she describes stopping all the clocks. Next to her, Sophie Koch exudes the energy, knowledge and passion that comes from having sung this role umpteen times on stage, including its most recent revival at Covent Garden. She is probably the finest Octavian we have at the moment, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she stops singing the part soon. Enjoy her while you can, therefore, and revel in the boyish energy that modulates into heart-stopping tenderness during the Presentation of the Rose as he gradually falls in love with Sophie. Mojca Erdmann is every bit as fine, bringing boundless energy and girlish brightness to Sophie. Her vocal acting is every bit as fine, though. In the sequence that follows the Baron’s expulsion from the tavern you can hear her grow up as she moves through her epiphany about Octavian and the Marschallin.

Even finer, if anything, is the marvellous Ochs of Günther Groissböck. This is a very special performance because he plays the baron without a shred of irony or parody. Instead, this is very much a figure of the old nobility: while he has cruder sensibilities, he has the breeding and style to hide them when he needs to. Consequently, this Baron Ochs is much more seductive and well behaved than most, and that makes him all the more dangerous and insidious. Groissböck sings him with incomparable beauty, even though he can’t quite reach some of the lowest notes. This, combined with the humane dignity that he brings to the character, makes him the finest Baron Ochs that I have seen on film. Adrian Eröd is an uptight, grasping social climber, and his surprisingly large vocal range sometimes makes him sound like a low tenor. The other parts are well sung and acted, and Kupfer shows himself to be an old hand in directing the chorus, particularly in the crowd scenes.

Underpinning the success of everything is the stunning performance of the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit, glowing and pulsating throughout. Their orchestral playing is in a class all of its own, outshining not only the London Phil at Glyndebourne, but pretty much any other orchestra, too. The energetic warmth of the sound, combined with the incredible precision of their playing, demands to be heard, and the surround-sound option allows it to come to life brilliantly. Welser-Möst’s direction is flexible, warm, and alive to all the nuances of the drama, but he broadens out magnificently for the final 15 minutes, which set the seal on a superb performance. The video direction, by the ever dependable Brian Large, is ideal, as is the picture quality on Blu-ray.

The pre-First World War setting and the colour of the singing voices mean that, of all the alternatives on DVD, the one that this most reminds me of is Christian Thielemann’s production, filmed for Decca at Baden Baden in 2009 (CD review). It features Renee Fleming, Sophie Koch and Diana Damrau with Franz Hawlata, and Jonas Kaufmann in a luxury cameo as the Italian Singer. Generally, however, the singing is finer on this Salzburg film which, if you’re looking for a modern(ish) production, is probably now a first choice. Kleiber in Munich remains indispensable, though (review). The score is entirely uncut in this Salzburg performance, by the way, but in this opera many people will see that as a mixed blessing.

Simon Thompson



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