Welsh National Opera – Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Roses)
Wales Millennium Centre
Sunday 4th June 2017
Welsh National Opera are now in the midst of Vienna mania. In this celebration of the Austrian capital, comes two of its most famous operas: Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss and Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. Would this eternal city of Freud, Klimt and Mahler have new light shed upon it?
Cardiff had yet to recover from appalling football fervour, as this new version of Der Rosenkavalier was being staged on a balmy Sunday afternoon. The popularity of this opera has never waned, but sadly it’s not one of my personal favourites. Like most operas, it too long (you feel it here) and the comedy elements are minimal, since this light humour is nailed into the opera itself, without any hope of belly laughs and rib ticklers.
Richard Strauss wrote some of the most breathtaking operas of the early 20th Century. Salome and Electra still ruffle feathers and they are exceptional theatrical pieces in their innovation and unflinching drama. Here, is a nod back into the past and perhaps he is even playing on his name. The Waltz King, or Johann Strauss II wrote famous waltzes and marches and maybe old Richard wanted to have a bit of a joke with his surname. Rosenkavalier relies heavily on waltzes and harks back to a more traditional period. Perhaps a more approachable opera for this climate.
For a three hour piece, the story is simple, of sorts: The Marschallin is a beautiful aristocrat, who is having a fling with Octavian, a young soldier. Concerned her husband will arrive back at any moment, The Marschallin is visited by Baron Ochs. He is to marry Sophie, but must have a gentleman present her with a silver rose (as is tradition). She suggests Octavian, who at this point is in disguise as a maid, still recovering from the fear that it they might have been caught. This doesn’t stop the Baron from lusting over this “maid”. Octavian must present the rose, but also save Sophie from a life of misery. But will he go with Sophie or back with The Marschallin?
It’s a pleasant story, but the comedy elements are so subtle that you feel the humour when there is never worth while. The moments of insight about age, time and love are what keep this opera in hearts of opera goers. The setting for this staging has left the era of Mozart and is now dwelling in the time of the opera’s premiere: the 1910s. There isn’t much really in adding to this setting, other than this trend of having operas set in the time of their premiering (footage of The Great War is futile). The period staging and costumes are lavish and the amount of sand used in the show is just as extravagant. It doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to see why it’s being used, a physical metaphor for The Marschallin worry of aging and losing her love.
This is an opera which requires three demanding females roles, all drastically different from the last. In her first time in the role, Rebecca Evans is The Marschallin in a role which suits her very well. Through grace and elegance, it’s a mystery why she has not been this role before. Her acting doppelganger is Margaret Baiton, who haunts the stage with her petite presence, at times turning towards said sand. She is thankfully the same height as Evans and she could get away with being the character’s older self.
In a brilliant trouser role, Lucia Cervoni is her lover Octavian. As a young lad, Cervoni is the very convincing, her boyishness is sound and her voice is sublime. As Sophie, Louise Alder can hold her own stands her ground in her disgust of the Baron. Her look of delight upon seeing Octavian is all we need from her to confirm her loveable sense of character, with a voice that melts into the role. Brindly Sheratt is a vile Baron, with a bass voice that is delicious to the ear. His deep laugh adds pangs of well needed humour and his pretend sword injury is also a riot. He also gets the biggest laugh of the night, removing his toupee when he expects to boff Octavian in disguise.
In a sumptuous aria, (which we are treated to almost twice) Paul Charles Clarke is the Italian Singer, who briefly appears at the estate with other visiting attractions. His voice was packed with that nasally, Italian style that is perfect for the aria. In such a lady strong piece this is a fleeting moment of masculinity. Peter Van Hulle and Madeleine Shaw are the scheming Valzacchi and Annina, who are half villains and half a helping hand to Octavian in a shift change of circumstances. Adrian Clarke is a pressing nag and a worry as Von Faninal, father of Sophie.
At times, the waltz music becomes so bitter sweet that it almost becomes unbearable. Maybe the many maturer audience members are struck by this heady nostalgia and fear of getting older.
One for the lovers.
Soupy & achingly sentimental.
Rating: 3 stars
WNO continue their Summer season with further performances of Der Rosenkavalier and Die Fledermaus at WMC, then on tour.
Photo Credit: Bill Cooper
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