STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier (Weigle)
Robert Carsen – in both this present staging and his previous essay (also on DVD: ArtHaus, 9/10) – is among a number of directors who have bumped Hofmannsthal’s 18th-century Maria Theresa setting forward to the 1910s, contemporary with the opera’s creation. The music makes this feel like a natural move and the staging is liberated from much expensive and hard-to-replicate baroque frippery.
Carsen (and his designers Paul Steinberg and Brigitte Reiffenstuel) moreover run with the full implications of this immediately pre-war period. They put Ochs’s motley Lerchenau retinue in soldiers’ clothing – and stage their bizarre Act 2 choral interjections as an amusing flat-on-the-floor army field exercise (choreographer Philippe Giraudeau). And they make Faninal an arms manufacturer (field guns displayed at his home) and, most controversially, present the final moments of the opera as page boy (here, youth) Mohammed’s drunken vision of troops firing and dying in the First World War. The latter effect (not too clearly filmed) of course denies a final ambivalent link between the Marschallin and Octavian, but Fleming’s character here has already latched on to the Police Commissioner.
This new release is sad for being the adieux to their roles of both Fleming and Garanča, two of the most played-in interpreters in recent years. The occasion serves them well. Fleming has always been good at the modern psychological side of the Marschallin, clearly focused on the role’s dilemma of ageing; Garanča presents her character’s age, masculinity and boy/girl comedy with at least as much aplomb and sheer energy as any Octavian since Brigitte Fassbaender or Janet Baker. Both are in secure voice, Fleming digging passionately and fearlessly into character in the Act 1 ‘clocks’ monologue and the crisis of surrendering her lover in the final trio. They are helped by the unusual fireball of Günther Groissböck’s Ochs, younger (but not too much) than usual, free of clichés of age and movement, gross in quite an original manner and (revealingly) even threatening in Act 3 with his suggestion of blackmailing the Marschallin about her relationship with Octavian. Erin Morley sings beautifully as Sophie, especially the key top notes in the Rose duet and trio; it’s a slight shame that, with the ages of the other two ladies looking so spot-on, this Sophie, as coiffed and made up, looks older than she should.
Weigle’s conducting leans to the classical and restrained – the Karl Böhm and Richard Strauss approach to the piece. Side by side with more luscious approaches from modern-instrument forces, the hectic five-minute start to Act 2 (heard nowhere better than on a Walhall transfer of a 1946 Met broadcast under Fritz Busch) sounds a little underpowered and the ‘Rofrano’ chorus too present. But Weigle and his players don’t let us down in the trio and the final pages.
The DVD sounds and looks good, although the shot selection/editing is not always so great – the actual arrival of the Rose, brilliantly acted by Garanča, is not as punchy as it might be. Above all, though, because the production puts Hofmannsthal’s complicated, seemingly too wordy but brilliant libretto in extreme focus and the performances are so refined, this DVD, a historic event, can be recommended in a crowded market.