Glyndebourne's Der Rosenkavalier came to BBC Prom 6. I was at the premiere (read my review here), captivated by Lars Woldt's unusual but singularly perceptive Baron Ochs. What a pity the Baron Ochs of the media were more focused on whether Octavian was sexually attractive to them, "either as man or woman". Its not up to them. If Ochs is fooled, that's his problem. (Read my analysis of the interpretation of the role HERE)
The first act of Der Rosenkavalier usually gets most attention because it's luscious. But Strauss satirizes convention and superficial appearances. In the final act, Baron Ochs is shown for the boor he is. It's Octravian who sets him up. At the very end of the opera, the Marschallin renounces her hopes and blesses the young lovers. Quite pointedly, Strauss suggests that wallowing in the past is not good. In the new lies the future. After Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier might seem a stylistic step backwards, but don't be fooled. Strauss references Mozart but also throws in sly barbs at the Strausses of Vienna, who turned the Mozart ideal into banal pap. The famous tenor aria is cute, but it's commercial, a consumer product like new clothes and hairdos. Baron Ochs likes music, too, but the music he likes is barely above the level of pop.
Just as we should beware of sugar, we should beware of too much sugar-coating in Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss's music and von Hofmannsthal's text savage mindless convention. Richard Jones respects the composers's intention far more astutely than the Ochsen of this world would ever comprehend.
At the Proms, the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier was not staged. Lars Woldt was unwell, replaced by Franz Hawlata, who sang Ochs for Andris Nelsons in Birmingham last month,. I've loved Hawlata since he was a colleague of Jonas Kaufmann in the stable at the Bayerisches Staatsoper in Munich. Hawlata's voice is more resonant than Woldt's, more closer to the ox-like heft with which the part is often done. Although I missed Woldt's snake-like wiliness, hearing Hawalata was compensation enough.
Strauss's fondness for sopranos at the height of their fame but almost, not quite, past their prime ensures that the Marschallin is usually cast for a Big Name, thus ensuring box office attention. But strictly speaking, between the first act and the final scenes, The Marschallin doesn't really have much to do, though what she does is pretty remarkable. Kate Royal is a perennial favourite ith the Glyndebourne crowd, and perfectly adequate, but shes not in the ranks of, say, Schwarzkopf, Isoskoski or divas in their class. Still, shes beautiful, whether in evening gown or nude suit, and sang with a nice wry touch, accessing the spirit of the opera with intelligence.
In many ways, Der Rosenkavalier predicates on Octavian, who may only be 17 but has all the nerve and verve of a teenager who's just discovered sex (and cross-dressing). Again, Strausss' music poses a conundrum. Octavian is an extremely demanding part, interpretively as well as vocally. No 17-year-old could do it. Much better that a singer approaches it with youthful exuberance. Tara Erraught brings genuine freshness to the part, singing with sprightly agility. I like the roundness in her timbre, which suits the part. So what if Strauss mentioned that he'd like Octavian to be "willowy". His music suggests otherwise. Anyone familiar with Strauss should expect cryptic clues and contradiction. Erraught is only 27, so she's still to reach her full potential. One day, I suspect, she'll very good indeed. Certainly she impresses German audiences, who know a thing or two. In Birmingham, Alice Coote sang the role: Erraught isn't quite up to Coote's standard, but she could well get there, and deserves respect from those who care about music.
I wish I had been to Birmingham to hear Andris Nelsons conduct Der Rosenkavalier with the CBSO. Everyone I know who was there loved what he did. Robin Ticciati has only just started his tenure at Glyndebourne. The premere I attended was in fact his first formal day on the job, so to speak. I loved his work with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He's also a Glyndebourne insider, a regular conductor of Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra. In Der Rosenkavalier , Strauss throws challenges at conductors, too, to test whether they can grasp the tough-minded irony beneath the frothy sugar frosting. That takes a feel for originality and even quirkiness, which is why, for me, Carlos Kleiber takes the cake. Ticciati has potential but he needs more self confidence.
Louise Alder sang Sophie, more developed and richer than Teodora Gheorghiu at Glyndebourne. Michael Krauss sang Faninal. Full cast list here. Sarah Fahie directed the Proms semi-staging. She directed movement in the Glyndebourne production, every gesture expressing character. Definitely a director to watch out for.
photo : Tristram Kenton, courtesy Glyndebourne Festival Opera