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.