Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, 22 December 2009

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Die Feldmarschallin Fürstin Werdenberg – Soile Isokoski
Der Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau – Peter Rose
Octavian – Sophie Koch
Herr von Faninal – Sir Thomas Allen
Sophie – Lucy Crowe
Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin – Elaine McKrill
Valzacchi – Graham Clark
The Marschallin’s Major-domo – Robert Anthony Gardiner
Faninal’s Major-domo – Steven Ebel
Italian Singer – Wooyung Kim
Notary - Lynton Black
Mohammed – Ostin D’Silva
Noble Widow – Glenys Groves
Doctor – Alan Duffield
Innkeeper – Robert Worle
Commissioner – Jeremy White

John Schlesinger (director)
Andrew Sinclair (revival director)
William Dudley (designs)
Maria Bjørnson (costumes)
Robert Bryan (lighting)

Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Kyrill Petrenko (conductor)

After a number of recent disappointments at Covent Garden, I am delighted to report that this Rosenkavalier marked something of a return to form. John Schlesinger’s production has a wisdom born of age – it is not that much younger now than the Marschallin – yet does not seem tired. It is quite different in spirit, for instance, from the Otto Schenk production in Munich, which really needed to be retired as soon as Carlos Kleiber stopped conducting. Whilst the sets in some respects look similar – though there is less ostentation in London – one resembles a museum piece, and the characters inhabit it as such, whilst the other sets a frame for musical drama. Time has passed – it is, after all, ein sonderbar Ding – but that is not necessarily a bad thing in this of all works. Andrew Sinclair’s revival direction seemed to highlight comedy rather more than I recall Schlesinger having done: a valid enough choice, I suppose, but I could have done without it.

Kyrill Petrenko was clearly anxious not to wallow; indeed, his aim seemed to be to highlight the modernist tendencies, so often misunderstood or straightforwardly ignored, in what is anything but a benign score. There were occasions when this perhaps went a little far: a few clarinet lines, for instance, which shrieked to little avail, evoking neither Elektra nor Mozart. However, as a guard against undue nostalgia, this was on the whole an estimable account. The orchestra played gorgeously, the Viennese sweetness of the violins a perfect joy. As so often when not labouring under the baton of its music director, its world-class status was reaffirmed.

Singing was a little patchier. There were no bad performances, but there was probably only one that truly stood out, namely Peter Rose’s Ochs. This seemed to me a considerably stronger account than I had heard from him at the beginning of the year in Berlin. It combined the subtle virtues of that performance, nowhere more so than when dealing with Hofmannsthal’s German, with a greater stage presence, yet without any danger of falling into the all-too-typical boorish caricature. This Ochs was a nobleman, if a provincial one. Soile Isokoski’s Marschallin exhibited commendable Lieder-like attention to the text, but lacked charisma, especially during a rather frosty first act. There is something a little amiss if one does not immediately fall in love with her, as one had in different ways with Renée Fleming and Dame Felicity Lott, the two previous Covent Garden reincarnations. I have heard better from Sophie Koch, though there was nothing, save a degree of anonymity, especially wrong with her performance. (How, though, I longed for Angelika Kirchschlager!) And Lucy Crowe made a reasonable enough job of Sophie, though she lacked the beauty many singers have brought to the role. If she could not prevent the character from exhibiting a certain irritating pointlessness, then that is hardly her fault; almost no one can. It was, though, a joy to witness once again the sheer professionalism of Sir Thomas Allen as Faninal: his fiftieth role for the Royal Opera (as discussed in an October interview).