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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 13 )
Der Rosenkavalier • Richard Strauss

Der Rosenkavalier • Richard Strauss

A Rosenkavalier for all Tastes

Pictures above and below courtesy Salzburg Festival © Monika Rittershaus. Click on details to see entire picture.

There’s a buzz at big-ticket opera productions at the Salzburg Festival that you don’t have at concerts, even where the latter sell out. A whiff of excitement is in the air, the dresses are fancier, the hair whiter, and the pleasing feeling of partaking in event abounds. And then there’s even music to listen to, while enjoying the subtle, cultural celebration of one self! Harry Kupfer’s Rosenkavalier is perfect for all that this year: It’s generously cast, well played, and the production itself a brilliant—which is to say functional—compromise between those who are into a bit of good old fashioned costume drama and those who get dust-allergies at the sight of reactionary efforts from yesteryear.

The production relies on gorgeous, vast photo-projections on the wide backdrop of the Grosses Festspielhaus that shows pictures (architectural exteriors and interiors, often drained of color; scenes in the park, near a Heuriger…) in front of which individual props smoothly move about laterally on several lanes: At first the assemblage of mirror, bed, door, decorative amphora & candelabra et al. looked as though it might have been pilfered from Cosí, Otello, Tosca, and I vespri siciliani productions, respectively, but blended in soon enough. Everything fit into the Rosenkavalier time-period from the pre-War years: The Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture in Herr von Faninal’s city palace, the costumes, ditto the car in which Faninal and the Feldmarschallin drove off leaving Sophie and Octavian behind… All very pretty, yet never dusty.

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F.Schubert, "Nachtviolen"
C.Gerhaher & G.Huber

The result was a hands-off approach that relied on the acting of the singers, which was splendid, indeed. Krassimira Stoyanova, in her debut as Feldmarschallin, was all regal warmth, dignified sensuality, and gracious sadness. Sophie Koch was the expectedly fine Octavian—not a surprise, because she’s owned that part for years now (on stage, in concert, on DVD…). But she might have benefited from toning it down just a little further: her fidgety and high-energy flippancy didn’t always make sense in the context of the subdued or shy realism of the others. Not the least Mojca Erdmann’s, who was heartwarmingly lovely and believably innocent-curious-understanding as Sophie. She’s such a slip of a thing, even English critics would like her. (I found my natural instincts kick in and just wanted to feed her Marillenknödel, twice daily, instead.)

Dramatically most compelling was Günter Groissböck’s Baron Ochs. It’s been almost something of a pet peeve that Ochs should be cast with a young, virile, physical man, a veritable challenger to Octavian, rather than an old, portly octogenarian. (No offense to the magnificent Kurt Moll, who was the first Ochs I saw on stage.) Well, I reckon that has never been put into practice more effectively than with the casting of Groissböck. So what he had a cold and wasn’t at his most resonant. So what his very low notes aren’t anywhere near said Kurt Moll’s. Here was an Ochs whose seedy insinuations, predatory moves‚ and cynical worldliness come across as properly offensive, threatening, disgusting and shocking—certainly to a young girl about to be betrothed to the animal. The audience was horrified along with Sophie and Octavian, and one noticed the extent of Ochs‘ sordid behavior much more acutely than one would have done, had it simply been a latter-day Falstaff who courted Sophie, ridiculous upon first glance already and not taken seriously beyond that.

The singing more or less matched these performances: Stoyanova with authority and some warmth, none-too creamy or sweet, with great diction and ever audible. Ditto clarion Sophie Koch, but not Mlle. Erdmann, who was covered by the Vienna Philharmonic more often than not, particularly in the beginning of the second act and much of the third. When her Sophie went up in the staves, however, she swung herself above the orchestra in the highest register, perfectly audible, with frail beauty, and nailing every note with delightful accuracy. Adrian Eröd’s Faninal had a desirable elegance about himself and particularly notable among the lesser roles was the deep and very nicely carrying, ever audible and pleasant bass of Tobias Kehrer as the Commissioner of Police.

Welser-Möst handled his Vienna Philharmonic, ever a little prone to loudness (or the pit perhaps a little too high up), deftly. There was little sugar in his Strauss rendition. Already the overture came closer to underlining the more modern than sweet harmonies that are present—yes—even in the Rosenkavalier---that otherwise über-lush follow-up to the shockers that were Salome and Elektra. I can’t think of any other “Comedy for music” that more massages the tear ducts. And with performances such as from these principals, it was just natural the last half hour became a mucus- and tear-heavy mess that necessitated an immediate scramble for the nearest tissue dispenser, post-opera.