Fifty years since Strauss died, ENO commemorates the occasion by performing what can only be described as a thoroughly superb account of Der Rosenkavalier. Jonathan Miller's production is one of his better ENO efforts, and the updating to the turn of the century works well in depicting the twilight days of the Hapsberg Empire. Faithfully revived by David Ritch's designs, it provides a more than serviceable backdrop for several quite brilliant individual performances.
On the opening night, Susan Parry was to have sung the title role but unfortunately had succumbed to a sinus infection; luckily ENO had a quite superb replacement in Emma Sellaway. How much rehearsal she'd had I don't know, but she gave a quite magnificent performance. Often with understudies one admires them for saving the show, but wishes that the announced singer had been singing as planned. Sellaway looks the part of a gawky adolescent, acts utterly convincingly and shows off her even mezzo-soprano voice to thrilling effect throughout this arduous role. I hope we hear more of her at the Coliseum.
Linda Richardson is touchingly effective as Sophie and produces some ravishing high notes during the presentation of the rose and the Act 3 trio and ensuing duet, indeed Richardson's and Sellaway's voices blend quite beautifully in the concluding love duet. As the oafish Baron Ochs who wishes to marry Sophie, Mark Richardson gives a very fine performance as well. Looking, and sounding alarmingly like his predecessor in this role, John Tomlinson (although a bit younger), he makes every word tell. The only problem is that you never really feel any sympathy for Ochs, and I don't believe that's quite what Strauss had in mind.
It's hard to do justice to Yvonne Kenny's assumption of the role of the Marschallin with so few words, but she gives the performance of her career. Much lauded when she assumed the role in the 1997 revival, being such a sensitive artist, she has no doubt deepened her assumption. Every word tells, magically spun on effortlessly glorious phrasing, and the depth of characterization is almost unbelievable. When she realises that she's growing old and can no longer continue her affair with Octavian, the look of resignation and world-weariness is moving beyond words. The finest Marschallin I have ever had the privilege to witness.
In the pit, Paul Daniel conducts faultlessly, never allowing the music to cloy and the orchestra respond with superb playing.