This is a production from Salzburg in 2004. The action has been moved up to the early twentieth century, probably the 1920s to guess from the costumes. I’m not sure what the production designers were going for with this. I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong about the concept – just that I’m not sure what if anything specific is communicated thereby. Certainly it makes the Marschallin’s religious language in Act I (and Sophie’s in Act II) jump out far more than it would in a production staged in the eighteenth century (which is what I think Strauss and Hofmannsthal originally imagined). But again, I’m not sure whether this is deliberate, or even important.
Act I takes place, of course, in the Marschallin’s room, which in this instance is a very boudoiry boudoir. The walls, covers and upholstery are all deep red, and there are two plates of what looks like half-eaten pie on the floor and the bench at the end of the Marschallin’s bed. We can all probably figure out what the pie is doing there.
Act II is a cavernous hall at the Faninal house. Act III is a bordello, which in terms of both color scheme and structure resembles the Marschallin’s apartments. The Marschallin loses an earring in the course of all the to-ing and fro-ing here, but this is not important. The whole thing looks very nice and our friends at Salzburg have clearly spared no expense: Octavian makes his Act II entrance on a horse. A real horse. It’s white, and it behaves. Also, if you are playing Salzburg Bingo – and who is not? – there is smoking in this one. Ochs lights up in Act II and again in Act III.
There is occasionally some weirdness with the video direction, e.g. a split screen for the first duet in Act II which switches the positions that Sophie and Octavian actually occupy on the stage, which is kind of annoying. For anyone who might be interested in this information: the video director is Brian Large.
This is not an opera that I know well. I have one recording that has bits of it (Renée Fleming, Susan Graham and Barbara Bonney) and one recording of the entire thing, a bootleg of a semi-staged live performance from 2007, with Malin Hartelius as Sophie (this is not a gratuitous Hartelius reference – it’s really her on the recording), Dorothea Röschmann as the Marschallin and Katarina Karneus as Octavian. The orchestra is the Cleveland Orchestra with Franz Welser-Möst, and it was recorded in Cleveland, Ohio, which is one of those places that continues to surprise me, as far as artistic output goes.
So anyway. Unlike Mozart’s operas and most of Handel’s, this is not an opera where I know at every moment what I am listening for. Strauss’s operas, like other late-Romantic and early twentieth-century works, break down into slightly larger pieces. The parts that I got sucked into in this performance were the Marschallin’s monologue at the end of Act I:
And in act II, Octavian and Sophie’s big moments, with bonus footage of the horse:
And in Act III, the trio:
Adrianne Pieczonka is not Renée Fleming, but this is an unfair comparison. She doesn’t have the big melting tone that Fleming (at her best) can bring to Strauss, but there is nothing wrong with this performance. This Marschallin is a reserved one. She holds back. There are never any histrionics. One gets the sense that she enjoys — in the sense of appreciating an intense experience, not in the sense of being thrilled every moment — the process of nobly handing Octavian over to Sophie almost as much as she did the affair itself.
Kirchschlager sounds great (this is hardly a surprise) and is clearly having a lot of fun with Octavian’s various metamorphoses. I don’t get a terrifically strong sense of Octavian as a person. Kirchschlager’s Sesto in this DVD of Handel’s Giulio Cesare was wonderful both in terms of sound and in terms of character, but for whatever reason Octavian doesn’t snap into focus the way Sesto did.
But for me the standout here was Miah Persson. She has one of those startlingly even voices that just sounds warm and golden from top to bottom. It is also a voice that plays very well with others – in all the ensembles, her voice melts beautifully into the structure of the music, but at the same time you can always pick her out. It’s very nice.
So. I think my next Rosenkavalier will be (ahem) that one with Malin Hartelius and Vesselina Kasarova in it. This has nothing to do with Der Rosenkavalier, but here are two things that I have been converted to this year:
1. Claus Guth
2. Vesselina Kasarova
There are probably others, but I can’t remember them right now. Feel free to say ‘I told you so’.