Photo of Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Anna Stéphany in Der Rosenkavalier by Catherine Ashmore.

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (The Rosebearer or The Knight of the Rose) was performed at the Royal Opera House as a brand new production set in a Viennese dream by Robert Carsen and designer Paul Steinberg at the close of 2016. In the beginning performances, the Marschallin was performed by legendary soprano Renée Fleming that this may potentially be her last time at the Covent Garden. The Marschallin’s gentle lover Octavian was performed by trouser role star Alice Coote, both expected at the New York Met this Spring. Due to the popularity of these performances, I was able to ascertain a ticket but I managed to see Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Anna Stéphany united as the Marschallin and Octavian who gave touching and exquisite performances for the opening scene.

The Marschallin’s palace looks as grand as the Imperial Palace in Vienna; gold, decadent and ornate with excessively huge beds and countless large doors that never seem to end. The sight of both of these lovers singing in this extravagant, vast space hones in on their strong and tender feelings for one another combined with lush vocals. The audience gain insight into the characters mindsets’ through convincing performances by Willis-Sorensen and Stephany: Marschallin’s nostalgia over the past, Octavian’s devotion to her, and the magnitude of their attraction.

Sophie Bevan as Sophie von Faninal in Der Rosenkavalier by Catherine Ashmore

Sophie Bevan as Sophie von Faninal in Der Rosenkavalier by Catherine Ashmore

Stéphany was particularly impressive as her voice seemed to carry strength up until to the final act disguised as Mariandel, tricking the libidinous Baron Ochs. Performing as the Baron Ochs  is Matthew Rose who appears to be a great fit, vocally and stage-wise. With his seasoned voice and exceedingly comic and spicy performance, he shows a different side to Strauss’s Baron Ochs that is almost lovable.

Rather than stage the opera in the 1750s, as Hugo von Hofmannsthal had intended, Carsen draws on the influences and surroundings of the year the opera premiered in 1911 – when the world was on the brink of war and the glamour of marriage took place to the backdrop of warfare artillery and young men eager to go to war. This is exactly the case for Carsen’s production where a rich and delicate duet between the betrothed Sophie, sung brilliantly by Sophie Bevan, is presented the silver rose by Octavian to a smokey scene filled with fire cannons and front line soldiers. It is perhaps the most important sequence of the opera, yet Carsen attempts a different tact which may put off audiences who prefer a more traditional display of the silver rose. Musically the scene isn’t compromised, though as the lingering woodwind instruments and incandescent strings which are accompanied by Bevan and Stephany’s voices bring the focus of these two youngsters’ romance to life.

A large cast deserves their credit for providing great amusement and outstanding talent at the Royal Opera House. Rachel Willis-Sørensen, who is due to sing again at the Covent Garden as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in March, sung splendidly together with Sophie and Octavian for the final trio – the emotional climax at the opera – which is where her rich soprano shined the most. Her performance captures the Marschallin’s acceptance of the bond between Sophie and Octavian, and her own preoccupations with the day she had been anticipating of seeing Octavian move on to another.

Matthew Rose (Baron Ochs) in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss @ Royal Opera House, London. Directed by Robert Carson. Conducted by Andris Nelsons. ©Tristram Kenton

Matthew Rose (Baron Ochs) in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss @ Royal Opera House, London. Directed by Robert Carson. Conducted by Andris Nelsons. © Tristram Kenton

Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s Faninal, the father to Sophie, is energetic and vigourous on his feet. Samuel Sakker as the Italian singer is a stylish lyrical tenor while Marianne is performed by Miranda Keys who has enthusiastic, singing prowess as she mills around the stage with her hands in the air as Sophie’s chaperone – I wish we could see more of her. And Alasdair Elliott is worth highlighting as the hilarious innkeeper in the final act where Octavian reveals himself to the Baron Ochs.

The stage direction is unique and Andris Nelsons conducts Strauss’s scrumptious score exceedingly well. Those three, almost, 30-minute long intervals are warranted once you understand the limitless efforts of the ROH Orchestra.

☆☆☆☆

The last performance of Der Rosenkavalier is on Tuesday 24 January, 6pm. Click here to book tickets. 

 

    3 Comments

  1. La Stravaganza January 21, 2017 at 1:48 am Reply

    2016 was a year surreal in many aspects, but this account of Der Rosenkavalier is a feat of surrealism unmatched in any other sphere. Were two productions of Strauss’s opera staged in parallel in the Royal Opera House? Were the programme proofreaders on strike? My mind, full of questions, runs amok.

    First, ‘the Marschallin was performed by legendary soprano Alice Fleming’. Who is this mysterious legendary soprano? A previously unknown cousin of Renée Fleming? The true identity of the singer taking the role of Octavian, one ‘Alice Cootes’ perplexed me temporarily, but then I wondered if Alice Coote was playing some sort of double-bluff on us, dressing as a man, AND changing her name slightly. What a vixen!

    This chap called ‘the Orchs’ – who is he? Hitherto, I had been aware only of a Baron Ochs in Hofmannsthal’s libretto. Perhaps this is a neighbouring minor aristocrat? No doubt their invitations used to get mixed up in the post all the time! Or, is Matthew Rose imitating an entire Orch(estra)?

    As far as I know – based only on what various books have told me – the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier took place in Dresden on 26 January 1911, rather than 1910. However, this is a mere quibble. What is a year when love and lust are in the air? Apparently warfare was in the air in 1910 as well. Of course, if one looks at the long historic narrative, one could say that the origins of the First World War can be traced back to the Congress of Vienna, or, if one doesn’t want to plunge that far into the abyss of the past, the Franco-Prussian War may suffice as a casus belli. Who knows! 1910 on the brink of war? Well, maybe! If I teetered on the brink for four years, I’d get cramp in my toes. But perhaps the Austrian army had stronger feet.

    Now this is curious. I have a friend called Andrew Nelson, and thus I was delighted to see that he appeared to be conducting at the Royal Opera House. Delighted, and, I must say, astonished, because he can’t read a note of music. He can’t stand the sight of a violin. Well, sometimes one wonders about conductors’ musical literacy, and questions their affection for string players, so perhaps he did leave Canada to take up the baton at Covent Garden. It was disappointing that somebody spelled his name as ‘Andrew Nelsons’ though – one would wish to be properly listed in one’s Royal Opera House debut! Then I realised! Maestro Andris Nelsons must have fallen ill, or become trapped in the snowy wastes of Latvia, and the management consulted Google to find the closest match in names. Andrew Nelson was the winner … and they left an extra ‘s’ on the end of his name, for the sake of euphony. Makes him sound a bit more foreign.

    I am really sorry that I missed the manifold delights of this production. Mystery singers, mystery characters, and an even more mysterious Canadian conductor! Who says that the ROH is a stuffy institution? What a treat!

    • Mary January 21, 2017 at 11:14 am Reply

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate any form of feedback whether it’s negative or positive. Firstly, the production started mid-December, which included lead soloists Renée Fleming and Alice Coote. The last two performances were sung by Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Anna Stéphany. The last performance is on Tuesday 24 January.

      ‘The Marschallin was performed by legendary soprano Renée Fleming’. Thanks for that, I’ve amended the error – that was my poor on my part for also adding an extra s at the end of Cootes. (Getting slightly angry at auto-correct here.) Sadly, nothing different to add RE: her trouser role (as I never saw her performance) although I’m sure Madam Coote is an extraordinary person, unsure about the vixen part, though.

      Don’t worry about that German ox, it has been also been changed to Baron Ochs, and truly belongs to Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Although I’m not sure Matthew Rose would say he belongs to him all the time. Maybe until the end of the production for now…

      You’re right about the year on the opera’s actual premiere date, but I too had difficulty figuring out which year it was and I didn’t want to rely on Wikipedia alone, but since you’ve raised it let’s change it to 1911, shall we?

      Unfortunately, all of these visual elements about the production were more of Robert Carsen’s ideas. Having read some critics’ reviews, some REALLY didn’t agree with him. I’m simply here to be the messenger and express what I saw, and given that it was my first time seeing the opera, I feel like I’m in no position to form a comparison or judgment. Perhaps you might have liked it, perhaps not.

      And yeah, hello! – of course, it was Andris Nelsons (slaps head). Silly typo yet again, auto correct win, I lose. Right, mistake rectified. Yet again, thanks for your comment. Things should be in order now, but, before I go, you’ve raised an interesting point about the Royal Opera House being stuffy? Do you think so? I’m not entirely sure. The more I’ve attended the house, the more I’ve come to realise the Royal Opera House really is not. Perhaps that’s another debate that deserves a proper discussion.

      It can’t be about prices of tickets because there are many occasions where tickets can be found on the cheap. I’ve discovered brand new productions and operas there, as well as long-standing traditional operas too. I believe they do their best to make opera accessible (as much as possible), also not limiting it to the house and broadcasting it to cinemas internationally. Yet, everyone may have different ideas and opinions about this. The debate can go on for ever.

  2. La Stavaganza January 21, 2017 at 5:48 pm Reply

    Surrealism suspended. Normal life returns.

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