Sunday, 29 January 2012
Der Rosenkavalier, ENO
David McVicar's Scottish Opera production of Der Rosenkavalier at English National Opera
is lost in some space of time. The single, crumbling Regency backdrop has lost the battle with creepers. The front of the stage has the cobwebbed gilt of candles (and Paul Constable's lighting perpetuates the idea of a candle-lit performance). 'Once upon a time*' says the design as do the rising and falling chandeliers, pulling focus like a camera at the extremities of the story. This, then, is a soft, loving view of this fin de siecle romantic comedy.
Played fairly straight, there are small nudges against the fourth wall, notably as Valzacchi sets up the Act 3 honey trap.There's also the familiar ENO trope of an embellishment, this time in the form of Ericson Mitchell's Mohammed. Not the usual child-page, rather he is a pubescent, certainly appraised of the goings-on of the Marschallin's boudoir and who may even be next on the list. I like the production though, allowed to be human and occasionally very funny despite (because of being) held in the period at the arm's length of '*Es war einmal'. The stage direction is organic, coming from the score, particularly in Act 3. In this respect I particularly liked the spacing of characters across the extremities of the front of the stage. At first it seemed a little distended but proved to work hand-in-glove with the expansiveness coming from the pit. Ed Gardner's finest reading to date, the conductor dared to allow the music space to sound and settle. The riot and fury didn't disappear into frenzied clouds of fuss though, with the orchestra responding to that Strauss-characteristic of a the ensemble as a collection of soloists. Power came with the precision. The pit is as grand and glorious a voice as those coming from the stage.
And there are some grand and glorious voices coming from the stage. Not necessarily at the same time, mind. John Tomlinson's Ochs fulfils the irony of the Marschallin's introducing of him: 'I know that voice'. His triumph is a comic one, managing all the text as if reading it by the bedside. Equally, as the Marschallin herself, Amanda Roocroft sang with coloured mezza voce and crisp text. The Act 1 monologue was not authoritative but deeply touching. Sophie Bevan's Sophie found the night's biggest ovation and with good reason. This is no performing blonde, no blue-blood Olympia, but a vibrant, sympathetic young woman. The Marschallin asks her to quieten down in Act 3 probably as the older woman feels genuinely threatened.
Commanding the show in a surprisingly decorous manner though is the titular knight. Sarah Connolly sang very beautifully, but behind the character. The yokel accent of Act 3 was a case in point, an entire stretch of dialect simply to set up a disposable in-joke with the Oswestry native Tomlinson. All of it sung though. The high-gilt armour that is Octavian's costume in the second Act couldn't be worn by a figure more deserving of garlanding for artistic heroics. Elsewhere the Madeleine Shaw's Annina, Jennifer Rhys-Davis' Marianne (the chaperone) and Mark Richardson's Commissar demonstrated the rewards of casting to a high level in depth. Notably great singing from these three.
Der Rosenkavalier is long-winded lyric theatre, its Achilles heel being that it too readily adopts the over-egging that it apes in music and matter. The quality of much of the singing, respect for the score and playing of the orchestra in this ENO production dealt with that the long way around, refusing to cut corners. Admirable.