Composer: Richard Strauss
Librettist: Hugo van Hofmammsthal
Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall
Conductor: Aleksander Markovic
Reviewer: Richard Hall
With a running time of four hours and requiring a large-spirited cast and lavish settings to portray the aristocratic grandeur and opulence of 18th-Century Vienna, Der Rosenkavlier, is arguably one of the most challenging comic operas in the Operatic repertoire. First staged by Opera North in 2002, David McVicar’s sumptuous production, (revived by Elaine Tyler-Hall), wonderfully brings to life Strauss’ deeply romantic score, as well as amid the frivolity and high jinks of the comic plot, producing moments of genuinely moving drama, pathos and tenderness.
The opera’s plot bears striking similarities with other bourgeois comic operas, notably The Marriage of Figaro, which Strauss sought to emulate but unlike most is relatively straight forward involving four principal characters, the teenage Count Octavian, his older lover, The Marschallin, her male cousin, Baron Ochs and his young fiancée, Sophie. The Marschallin, on behalf of the Baron tasks as is custom, Octavian with delivering a silver rose to Sophie. On meeting her Octavian falls madly in love and vows that he will stop Sophie from marrying the womanising and brutish Baron. Add to the plot a copious amount of tomfoolery, revenge, mistaken identity, a duel and a dark slice of comedy and it is easy to see why Der Rosenkavalier, has become Richard Strauss’ most popular and frequently performed opera.
Four hours is a long time to engage audience interest and the responsibility for maintaining this rests entirely with the four leading principals. Opera North has an impressive track record of attracting excellent soloists and this production is no exception. The quartet of leading principals are outstanding, each imbibing their roles with style, panache and superb musicality.
Most impressive is the Swedish soprano, Ylva Kihlberg as The Marschallin, the quality of her acting and singing is exceptional. Rarely has one seen acting of this intensity and power in an Opera House. Kihlberg’s performance, especially singing her young lover’s rejection is extraordinarily moving. As Octavian, Helen Sherman excels in the cross-dressing nature of the role, especially when donning the disguise of the young maid, Marinadel. Her exuberant boyish performance is a real treat. Fflur Wyn as Sophie is the perfect ingénue, the purity and wholesomeness of her singing is perfectly in keeping with the winsomeness and emotional fragility of her character. As the bullish Baron, Henry Waddington gives a bravo performance strutting around the stage in a bullying and comic manner; his voice is terrific, wonderfully rich in tone, with great expression.
The supporting cast, including the splendid Opera North chorus and the orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Aleksander Markovic, the Company’s new Musical Director, brilliantly brings to the fore the finer elements of Strauss’ melodic and harmonic score, with recognisable echoes and pastiches of his well-known Viennese namesakes. Without having to concentrate on a demanding plot, the real joy of this production is being able to enjoy and savour the many musical highlights that this exquisite opera has to offer. Particularly impressive are the fast paced overture and the sublime trio, Hab mir’s gelbot, (I made a vow) in the final Act.
This is a first class revival of one of Opera North’s most successful productions, which will appeal to connoisseurs and fans of popular classical music alike.
Reviewed on 9 November 2016 | Image: Robert Workman