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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier, Comic opera in three acts (1913) [203 mins]
Octavian - Elina Garanca (mezzo)
Marschallin - Renée Fleming (soprano)
Sophie - Erin Morley (soprano)
Baron Ochs - Günther Groissböck (bass)
Faninal - Markus Brück (baritone)
Marianne - Susan Neves (soprano)
Valzacchi - Alan Oke (baritone)
Annina – Helene Schneiderman (mezzo)
Italian Tenor - Matthew Polenzani (tenor)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Sebastian Weigle
Producer, Robert Carson. Set Designer, Paul Steinberg. Costume Designer, Brigitte Rieffenstuel
rec. 13 May 2017, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Picture Format 16:9. Colour B-50. PCM Stereo & DTS-HD MA 5.0. Subtitles: German (sung language), English, French, Spanish
DECCA Blu-ray 0743945 [227 mins]

I cannot write about this opera without touching on my seeing it first. It was a seminal period in my life when my professional work took me to London regularly, thus the opportunity to see works at The Royal Opera House. I was already an opera addict. I saw my first professional performance at age fourteen in 1950, Gounod’s Faust (Hervey Alan, Amy Shuard and Roland Jones); the details remain long in my memory. This was followed by hearing Gigli, live, playing around with the phrases of Verdi’s Rigoletto. There was an interim when full-time education away from my family home interrupted my interest. Then I inherited the amp my father had built from a Briggs design with KT 66 valves, which generated enough heat to fry eggs, and playing deck of a Garrard 301. Records came slowly, as straitened economic circumstances dictated, and were mainly of Italian, French and a little Russian opera. Of German opera repertoire I knew nothing as I wrote seeking a ticket for the night I was in London. It turned out to be the first night of a new production of Der Rosenkavalier by Luchino Visconti, the music conducted by Georg Solti. There were no titles and I struggled to understand what was going on in what appeared to be an on-the-bed sexual frolic between two women. This was 1966, not the present day, and a few doubts came to my mind!

In the intervening years I have come to know the opera. It has drawn the major lyric sopranos of each generation into the recording studio, including a 1990s production, also on Decca, which featured Renee Fleming. There also were films of Gwyneth Jones and Felicity Lott on the DG label and Solti conducting a Schlesinger production from The Royal Opera House with Kiri Te Kanawa as the Marschallin. But the singer who has come to dominate or own the role, as opera addicts might say, is the soprano Renée Fleming. Here she is taking her farewell to it in this production also seen at Covent Garden. Elīna Garanča, in one of her signature roles of Octavian, is likewise taking it from her repertoire: her voice has developed, allowing her to venture into some of the bel canto mezzo roles.

It is an opulent production, updated to the period of its composition, but without destroying the patina, for want of a better word, of the work. As well as the wonders of the two singers mentioned, singing off each other, the cast is outstanding as actors with Erin Morley notable as Sophie and Matthew Polenzani as the Italian Singer in his brief appearance. Günther Groissböck’s acting as the crude baron Ochs is characterization personified, albeit I would have preferred a more sonorous voice in the role. Markus Brück is a suitably fussy parent.

As I indicate, both Elīna Garanča and Renée Fleming are retiring the role from their repertoires. We can all make guesses as to who might step into their roles. Will they come to live them, as these two do? Well, it takes a good few performances to reach the standards of natural understanding and realisation achieved by the duo in this film. They are not perfect, age has caught up with Fleming in particular and it shows in a few, very few, rare vocal moments. Otherwise the production, orchestral playing and staging, added to the consummate characterisations on stage should ensure this performance and recording should be on every Straussian lovers wish list.

Robert J Farr



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