Strauss (Der) Rosenkavalier

Kleiber’s classic performance sets an all-time standard

Author: 
Alan Blyth

STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier

  • (Der) Rosenkavalier

At last this unforgettable performance appears on DVD. Acclaimed on both video and laserdisc, it has languished too long in the archives. Although it is 26 years old, it has lost nothing of its power to delight eye and ear, and is in almost every way superior to Carlos Kleiber’s 1994 remake in Vienna. Schenk’s direction is finely judged, strong in detail, in Jürgen Rose’s handsome, traditional sets. Eschewing fashionable modernities, its has stood the test of time.

Kleiber’s reading has that essential mix of warmth and élan the score demands, and a lightness of touch allied to controlled but never effusive sentiment. The Bavarian State Opera Orchestra plays with the brio and confidence gained from long experience of Kleiber’s impulsive ways. The shots of the conductor in the pit during the preludes to Acts 1 and 3 show how incisive his beat can be and how much he actually enjoyed conducting the piece.

The instinctive interaction of the principal singers is another indication of the rapport achieved in this wonderful staging. The intimacy of the Act 2 dialogues between the Marschallin and Octavian and between Sophie and Octavian, and the interplay among the three in the closing scene of Act 3, is rewarding and deeply moving. In the name part, Fassbaender acts the ardent, impetuous youth to the life, sensual with the Marschallin in Act 1, lovestruck with Sophie in Act 2 and wittily amusing in the Mariandl disguise, the eyes conveying all the character’s changes of mood. Nothing is exaggerated, everything rings true in an ideal assumption.

Popp conveys all the shy charm called for in the Silver Rose scene, indignation at Ochs’s boorish behaviour, and in Act 3 confusion as her emotions are torn apart; she sings with the right blend of purity and sensuousness. Dame Gwyneth, in one of her best roles, looks appealing and girlish in Act 1, and then becomes all dignified authority and resignation in Act 3. She is right inside the role, and suggests all the heartbreak at the end, adapting her large voice throughout to the work’s conversational style. Jungwirth is a ripely experienced, echt Viennese Ochs, for the most part avoiding excessive boorishness. Kusche is a tetchy old Faninal, Araiza a mellifluous Italian Tenor. The smaller parts are taken by long-serving members of the Munich company.

The picture comes up fresh on DVD and the sound is mostly first-rate, as is the video direction. This is a must-buy.

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