Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
Octavian – Tara Erraught
Marschallin – Kate Royal
Sophie – Teodora Gheorghiu
Baron Ochs – Lars Woldt
Faninal – Michael Kraus
Marianne – Miranda Keys
Valzacchi – Christopher Gillett
Annina – Helene Schneiderman
Italian Tenor – Andrej Dunaev
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Robin Ticciati
Richard Jones (director)
rec. live, Glyndebourne, 5 & 8 June 2014
OPUS ARTE OA1170D DVD [191:00 + 22:00 (extras)]

This Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne’s contribution to the Strauss anniversary in 2014, will forever be unfortunately remembered for “Dumpygate”. This was the controversy wherein several of the newspapers commented negatively (and, some would say, unkindly) on Tarra Erraught’s appearance as Octavian, unleashing a storm in a teacup over whether the critics were being sexist. I’m not going to go through that again, though you’ll find a summary of some of the fallout here. Dame Kiri te Kanawa, giving probably the most sensible comment out of everyone, blamed Nicky Gillibrand’s costume designs which, it is fair to say, do Erraught no favours. It’s a shame, however, that this was allowed to overshadow what is in many ways a strong show, though not in the top league.

There is a lot to like in Richard Jones’ production, primarily his direction of individual singers. Repeatedly, he demonstrates a sure touch in underlining aspects of character development that lie hidden behind the conventions: go straight to the three-way awkwardness that precedes the Act 3 Trio to see this at its best. He is unafraid of the sexuality of the story, and you see this right at the beginning which opens with Kate Royal’s young-looking Marschallin in the shower. Her tasteful nudity invokes Botticelli’s Venus, setting her up as an ideal of beauty that is lost on neither Octavian nor Mohammed, the Moorish servant, who ogles her from behind a door. His fetish for the Marschallin runs through both the first and last acts. The growing affection between Octavian and Sophie is very well handled, and I liked his depiction of Ochs in Tyrolean walking gear, underlining his status as the crude country cousin.

His choice of designs is a problem, though, most notably because Jones cannot decide on whether or not to take the action seriously. The sets and furniture for the first and third act are garish with a visual feel of Alice in Wonderland, as though Jones is trying to parody but can’t quite bring himself to go through with it. Faninal’s house is appropriately ghastly for the nouveau riche social climber, but the combination of the fin-de-siècle style with some 18th century costume touches sets up a clash that is never satisfactorily resolved. Sigmund Freud is on hand to hear the Marschallin’s Act I soliloquy, and the Baron’s third act comeuppance looks like a nightmare that could have come out of one of the psychoanalyst’s textbooks. By and large, though, Jones’ crowd scenes are not a success, with both the Marschallin’s levee and the rabble in the tavern feeling both cluttered yet static at the same time. This Rosenkavalier often looks interesting, but ultimately I found it had nothing particular to say.

Musically, things are better. Kate Royal’s first Marschallin is appropriately luxurious. She doesn’t yet have the ripeness that distinguishes the role’s very finest practitioners, but it’s not a long way off. She grows in stature as the first act develops, climaxing in a gorgeous late duet when she sends Octavian away, full of wistfulness and regret. For all the controversy over her appearance, Tara Erraught certainly manages some appropriately boyish body language, and she never sounds less than satisfying. Teodora Gheorghiu’s Sophie is gorgeous: sweet, bright and tinkly, but also with bags of personality. Lars Woldt’s Ochs is the most revelatory of all, however: he brings lyrical warmth to the part, never playing it as a joke. He shows us that Ochs is a real person with his own agenda, all the while singing with great beauty. The same is true for Michael Kraus’ Faninal who is not only lyrical but also personable, not just a caricature.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra play brilliantly but, unusually for a Glundebourne DVD, they sound boxed-in and restricted. Ticciati's direction is pretty secure for his first production as music director. His pacing is good, and he picks out certain key flecks of colour that bring the score to life, such as the trumpet fanfare after the horn climax in the Act I prelude. He injects real energy into the Baron's description of his love-making in Act I.

However, I don’t think this is a DVD that will appeal far beyond the theatre audience for the production. It certainly won’t please those who want a traditional production, nor is it radical enough for those who want something revisionist. My favourite Rosenkavalier on DVD was and remains Carlos Kleiber’s Munich production on Deutsche Grammophon. Its rococo elegance looks sensational, the symbol of a bygone age in more ways than one. It boasts a cast including Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender and Lucia Popp, as well as the best conducting you’ll hear.

Simon Thompson

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