Der Rosenkavalier (Glyndebourne)
Glyndebourne celebrates Richard Strauss's 150th birthday in style with a triumphant new production of his most popular opera
It is a truth universally acknowledged – among his aficionados at least – that the broader the comedy in a Richard Jones production, the more garish the wallpaper he will choose in which to encase it. Given the ill-assorted lengths of Coloroll on display at Glyndebourne there's not much doubt that he sees Richard Strauss's ecstatic masterpiece as a knockabout farce. And to ram the point home he has Tara Erraught's plucky Octavian stab horrid Baron Ochs in the backside with the sharp end of his silver rose. Ooh, Matron.
Yet despite his tendency to roister-doister, Jones never stints on Der Rosenkavalier's extravagance, nor on its romance, and especially not on the beauty of thought that governs the selfless behaviour of Kate Royal's magisterial Marschallin. Combined with some transcendent playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Robin Ticciati he has created a rapturous new production that's loaded with fresh observation, musical felicity and emotional truth.
Together with his librettist, the peerless Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss weaves the slenderest of stories across three-and-a-half hours of music; yet, as with Jones's staging, it never outstays its welcome. Seventeen-year-old Octavian shares a fierce adolescent affair with the much older Marschallin, but when he finds true love in the shape of the more appropriately-aged Sophie and rescues her from the rapacious claws of the dark-hearted Ochs, the cougar aristocrat steps graciously aside and lets nature take its course.
In most productions of Der Rosenkavalier, as the curtains part after Strauss's shamelessly ejaculatory orchestral prelude they reveal Octavian and the Marschallin sharing a post-coital moment on a rumpled bed. Here instead, in an unforgettable opening image whose eroticism and beauty encapsulate the very themes of the opera, Octavian gazes hungrily on his lust-object as she stands naked under a glittering shower.
Erraught's is an unconventional Octavian: eager, feisty and, like Mozart's trouser-role Cherubino before him, fuelled by testosterone. The Irish mezzo has an ideal Straussian timbre and she captures the character's boyishness terrifically well (although surely a change of wig might have helped with suspension of disbelief when (s)he is disguised as the chambermaid ‘Mariandel'). The youthful innocence of Erraught's flirting with Teodora Gheorghiu's Sophie, their romance indicated with touching simplicity by a gentle to-ing and fro-ing, is Jones at his finest.
Gheorghiu, no relation to Angela, gives Sophie the sweetest imaginable stage presence that went some way to compensate for what at the opening performance came across as limited vocal bloom. This is a role that should soar with lyric beauty. Kate Royal, on the other hand, is set fair to become the Marschallin of our time. Her regal physical presence is extraordinary, her great first-act aria was spellbinding.
Jones obviates any possible longueurs by filling the evening with ingenious and imaginative stagecraft. He is abetted in no small part by Paul Steinberg's witty sets and Mimi Jordan Sherin's atmospheric lighting, and by a host of cameos from the likes of Andrej Dunaev (the Italian Singer), Miranda Keys (Marianne Leitmetzerin) and Christopher Gillett and Helene Schneiderman, choreographed to within an inch of their lives as the scheming Valzacchi and Annina.
For once, though, the star turns in this Rosenkavalier are three men. The excellent German bass Lars Woldt invests Baron Ochs with some notably dark colours: here is no superannuated Commedia buffoon but a youngish man of reactionary persuasion, and his besting by Octavian is all the more satisfying for his nasty plausibility. And Glyndebourne's new music director Robin Ticciati wins his spurs with a mighty, magnificently homogeneous account of the score. Finally there's Richard Jones, the operatic individualist par excellence, who has given this great work the production it deserves.