Octavian (Tara Erraught), Baron Ochs (Lars Woldt) and the Marschallin (Kate Royal) in Richard Jones's new production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndebourne Festival
© Bill Cooper 2014
Tara Erraught's Octavian and Teodora Gheorghiu as Sophie
© Bill Cooper 2014
Kate Royal as the Marschallin with Daniel Francis-Swaby's Mohammed
© Bill Cooper 2014
Ten days before the 2014 Glyndebourne Festival opened on May 17, Sir George Christie died at the age of seventy-nine. George Christie, who effectively inherited the festival from its founder, his father John Christie, instigated and oversaw the building of the current opera house, which opened in 1994. Just before the curtain rose on this season's new production of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Jones, Glyndebourne's current chairman, George's son Gus Christie, recalled his father in a moving speech.
The Strauss–Hofmannsthal comedy was a favorite of George Christie's, the audience learned. Whether he would have liked this production, designed by Paul Steinberg (sets) and Nicky Gillibrand (costumes), with some marvelously effective lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin, is impossible to say; but it was clearly much enjoyed by the audience — and that would certainly have pleased him.
The staging represented Jones pretty well at the top of his directorial game. Its actual stagecraft was nigh-on faultless, with some very impressive group movement organized by Sarah Fahie. The cast — not, perhaps, a classic one — was nevertheless always respectable and often a good deal more. In his first assignment in the pit as Glyndebourne's music director, conductor Robin Ticciati brought much of the necessary late-Romantic sweep and surge to the score, drawing both refined and focused playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra as he did so. Strauss fans had good reason to be pleased.
Kate Royal was singing her first Marschallin on this occasion. She and Jones contrived to begin the opera in an unusually daring fashion: following the uproarious orchestral shenanigans of the Prelude, the curtain rose to discover the Princess von Werdenberg apparently naked under a shower. (I'm told she was actually wearing a body stocking.) Having seized everyone's attention, Royal went on to sing a performance that may have lacked an ideal sheen or security of tone but which benefited from her detailed attention to the text and her consistently fine physical acting; overall, she proved a memorable exponent of this iconic role.
Irish mezzo Tara Erraught was Octavian. She did not create through her physical gestures or mannerisms an entirely convincing seventeen-year-old boy, yet sang with a richness of tone that bordered on grandeur. Arguably, Erraught did not match her two soprano colleagues ideally from a purely vocal point of view, but her instrument itself promises great things. It would be of interest to hear her in some of the Italian roles she has already sung in Munich and elsewhere.
The second soprano with whom Erraught's Octavian was emotionally involved was the Romanian Teodora Gheorghiu, whose clear, clean tone did very nicely in the high-lying phrases allotted to the ingénue Sophie. Meanwhile, the assiduous social-climbing indulged in by her father Faninal was vigorously presented in the burnished baritone of Michael Kraus.
Yet the star of the evening was none of these. It is easy sometimes to forget just how much of the opera revolves around Baron Ochs, and that it was at one time planned by the work's creators that this character would be allotted the title-role, rather than his younger rival. In the case of bass-baritone Lars Woldt, such a decision would have seemed entirely appropriate; his is a large voice with a large stage personality attached to it, and his relative youth, as compared to many exponents of the part, seemed a positive advantage.
From all of these, but also from Gwynne Howell's distinguished Notary, Miranda Keys's businesslike Marianne Leitmetzerin, and the fulsome Italian Tenor of Andrej Dunaev (who is actually from Siberia!), Jones obtained performances that were not only excellent in themselves but that also fitted perfectly into the larger context of the staging as a whole. Its period seemed — as sometimes before in Jones' work — to be left deliberately vague, with stylistic elements that belonged to the Jugendstil movement, the 1920s, and even later: a silent character called Freud and unmistakably intended as Sigmund of that ilk sat in on the Marschallin's monologue. (Maybe he was waiting to give her a therapy session.) But the result was thoughtful and at times profoundly moving as well as highly entertaining. Could this Rosenkavalier become a Glyndebourne classic? We will have to wait and see.
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