Der Rosenkavalier – Review – Leeds Grand
Der Rosenkavalier – Review
Leeds Grand, September 2016
by Sandra Callard
Do not confuse composer Richard Strauss with the Viennese Waltz King, Johann Strauss, which I admit I have done occasionally. Don’t expect his operas to be full of waltz and music from the south which epitomises Johann’s style. Here we have a horse of a very different colour. German born Richard has written many operas. They are usually sung in German and are eagerly watched by a section of opera lovers who love his very individual sound. This consists at times of a very apparent nod to the waltzing Strauss family, strident and repetitive though it may be, and an eerie timbre suggesting an unknown dread to come.
His comic opera, Der Rosenkavalier, is possibly his best known work. The superlative Opera North company performs it at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. The curtains part on a sumptuous 18th century bedroom containing a huge bed on which cavort, surprisingly, two women; a noblewoman with her younger lover. But the lover has a male name, Octavian, and is referred to throughout as ‘he’.
“Sung with gusto”
This is confusing and certainly distracting to anyone new to the opera. One needs to try and sort out what is going on. I could only conclude it was there for mere titillation. Nevertheless, Helen Sherman as Octavian and Ylva Kihlberg as the noblewoman sing the roles to perfection. The Marschalin is afraid of losing her younger lover, and her heartfelt plea to him to stay with her is one of the moving arias in the opera. Her fears are ultimately realised. He leaves her for a younger woman, Sophie. Her innocence and beautiful, bell-like soprano endear her to Octavian. Exquisitely sung by Fflur Wyn, she wrings every ounce of pathos from the music of Strauss and the words of librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
The story is a tale of adultery, villainy and loss. Ultimately it is also one of love, redemption and the exposing of wickedness. It is one of Strauss’s great comedies. But the humour is slight. It produces an occasional wry smile or a quiet chuckle. There are no great laughs to be had. Most of the humour emanates from Baron Ochs of Lerchenau. He is a provincial rural aristocrat, sung with gusto by Henry Waddington. He lecherously moves through an array of women, be they aristocrats or servants. His boisterous and rampant behaviour is amusing to modern eyes. But it tells a pitiable story of what was acceptable in previous centuries. Nevertheless, Waddington pulls it off and even manages to invest a partial sense of his conviction that to act so badly is in fact his perfect right.
“A treat for the eyes”
The production and direction of Der Rosenkavalier are second to none. David McVicar directs sublimely, and can take a bow for the stage settings too. The costumes of Tanya McCallin are luxurious and fitting to the era. The Opera North Orchestra play the score to perfection. Nevertheless, the opera is over-long at three hours, with two intervals. I did find my attention wavering. The translation boards on either side of the stage were working overtime. But mainly with repetition of lines, and I stopped reading eventually. A treat for the eyes, though not necessarily for the ears.
images: Robert Workman