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S & H International Opera Review

  Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, 2002 New Zealand Festival (MS)


It is not hard to understand why Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier is so popular. The combination of sharp, witty comedy counterpointed by heartbreaking pathos, all wrapped up in a framework of luscious music, has been enthralling audiences world-wide since it was first premiered in Dresden in 1911. The fact that it has taken over 90 years to reach New Zealand is harder to grasp, so full marks to the New Zealand Festival for mounting the first ever production here. As with previous opera performances the Festival has brought together an international cast and production team and the results were of the highest standards.

Gale Edward's production was at its most successful in dealing with the varying emotions of the three principal protagonists - the ageing, but hardly old, Marschallin, her youthful lover Octavian and beautiful ingénue Sophie von Faninal. Yvonne Kenny's finely portrayed Marschallin moved effortlessly from playful lover to the almost matriarchal acceptance that Octavian's life will be with Sophie and not herself. Strauss requested of his Marschallin that "one eye be moist, and the other dry", and Kenny achieved this to perfection.

If her voice lacks the vocal richness of some of her illustrious predecessors, Kenny's assumption of the role was nevertheless of the highest international standards.

Louise Winter and Miah Persson gave equally convincing performances as Octavian and Sophie. Persson's stunning good looks and crystal clear voice made her an ideal Sophie. There was no wonder that the Marschallin felt a little jealous!

Less effective was the comic side of the production. Alan Ewing was singing Ochs for the first time and needed a little more time to immerse himself into this most Viennese of roles. Nevertheless his robust singing and strong stage presence left a favourable impression. Perhaps Ewing needed better direction, and this could also be said of the hangers on that make up much of the comic side of this opera. Despite very witty costumes by Roger Kirk the levée scene never really came to life on the opening night, and there were also flat moments in the second and third acts. This was a shame with such assured singing actors as Richard Greager and Helen Medlyn in the roles of Valzacchi and Annina.

Brian Thomson's sets were elegantly simple and stylish, avoiding the excesses of the Baroque period. It was an interesting idea that the Faninals were still unpacking in Act 2. Unfortunately the production deserved much better lighting. Footlights may have been in vogue in the 18th Century, when there was little else on offer in terms of illumination, but there seemed little reason to resurrect them here. The incessant shadows became increasingly annoying after the initial effect wore off, and constantly distracted from the main action on the stage.

John Keenan squeezed Viennese passion out of the NZ Symphony Orchestra reaching musical perfection in the final trio and duet. The three ladies combined for a rapturous performance of this most beautiful music, perhaps some of the finest ever written. Hopefully we will not have to wait another 90 years to hear it again in New Zealand.

© Michael Sinclair is the editor of The Opera Critic

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