English National Opera
The London Coliseum
Richard Strauss’s four act comedy for music Der Rosenkavalier, arguably the most popular German work of the 20th century, was, on its first production in Dresden in 1911, the unveiling of a new genre—the musical play. For this ground-breaking achievement the credit must be shared equally between the composer and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannstahl.
David McVicar’s production, originally for Scottish Opera, was first staged at the Coliseum in 2008. Its return is curtain-raiser to the 2012 season, with an almost entirely new cast with ENO music director Edward Gardner at the rostrum.
For all the musical delights of Rosenkavalier, it remains, when all is said and done, a fairy story. And settings by McVicar and Michael Vale are such as to raise our doubts about the veracity of this Viennese extravaganza!
The Feldmarschallin, now sung by Amanda Roocroft, the most recent Merry Widow of the Coliseum, sings beautifully and so wistfully of the cruel passing years—yet she is barely 35. Octavian, initially her toy boy lover of the famous opening bed-scene, plays the title role Knight of the Rose which so far as I can make out is total fiction.
As, apparently, is the great ceremony around which the whole opera is built, of presenting a silver rose to the distinguished bride to be. But then the tales and traditions of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose et al are likewise creatures of our imaginations.
How delightful then that the world of opera should occasionally take us magnificently into a light-hearted, unstressful world of make-believe.
At the high point of this work, just when we are approaching our own crescendo of appreciation, comes Strauss’s coup de grace—the famous silver chords of the gleaming rose itself. These glorious, high major chords are a subtle blend of three flutes, three violins, harps and a celeste all meeting in mid air, it seems, the soaring silver voice of Sophie, now in the youthful person of Sophie Bevan, a young ENO singer with a rapidly growing concert repertoire including Messiah.
Here is the musical epitome of “love at first sight” as the stage Sophie meets her match. Returning to the heroic role of Octavian is the fine mezzo Sarah Connolly who graced earlier performances of this production with her fine, vigorous representation of this famous trouser role.
Another returning member of the original cast is the distinguished bass John Tomlinson with a rousing account of the luckless Baron Ochs which combines musical authority with the enjoyment in the best German buffo tradition.
To the list of glorious tenors who have delighted audiences as a singer must now be added Gwyn Hughes Jones standing in for the indisposed Jaewoo Kim.
Excellent cameos, too, from Andrew Shore (Faninal), Jennifer Rhys-Davies (Duenna), Adrian Thompson (Valzacchi) and David Newman (Landlord).
Der Rosenkavalier, just the tonic for present, financially strained times, is at the London Coliseum on Wed 1st February, Sat 4th, Sat 11th, Fri 24th and Mon 27th of February.
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole