Hilary Reid Evans

Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne, 24th May 2014

Uncomfortable viewing indeed, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, Tara Erraught is physically miscast or, perhaps more accurately, miscostumed. Suspension of credibility is the norm for any opera-goer, but the basic premise of Rosenkavalier: the sexual attraction between the older and ravishingly attractive Marshallin (Kate Royal) and the much younger Octavian (Tara Erraught) is entirely absent from this production.

Which woman in the audience however did not view the opening scene, the Marshallin in the buff - sorry, the bath - and involuntarily tighten her stomach muscles? Yes, another reason to feel uncomfortable indeed.

As the Marshallin's levee unfolds she ages before our eyes, the scene culminating in the beautifully accomplished Handspiegel and Die Zeit arias. No Schwartzkopf she, yet Kate Royal brings both pathos and clarity of tone to the role despite some hints in the direction that she might just be in the process of moving on to her next conquest.

The apparent contrast between the Marshallin and the overgrown schoolboy Ochs (Lars Woldt) could not be greater. The Baron an insensitive boor, the Marshallin sensitive, delicate and mannerly, with Woldt fleshier and more youthful-looking than many an incumbent of the role. Yet at heart how different are they, with each attempting to take their pleasures as they will? Woldt's tone is true, his voice and presence commanding, with his interpretation of Mit mir in particular beautifully sung.

It is in the Acts I and III Mariandel scenes that Tara Erraught is given a chance to display not only her fine acting skills but also her wonderfully rich, round tones. Erraught shines too in the scenes with the fragile, doll-like Sophie (Teodora Gheorghiu), bringing a puppy-dog like intensity to his/her attraction to the prize-bride.

It is a tribute to the direction of Richard Jones that the characterisation of the main protagonists is more sharply drawn than in many a production, yet in other areas Hofmannsthal's sharp commentary on societal values and sexual mores is reduced to a pantomime-like behaviour. The harassment of Faninal's servants by Ochs' followers for example is shown as a farce-like chase rather than an illustration of an assumed droit de seigneur and sexual menace.

A further reason for discomfort was Paul Steinberg's obsessive use of gaudy and over-scale wallpaper and pantomime-scale furnishings. One can only surmise an attempt at surrealism, yet visually this device further distanced the audience from the satire that lies at the heart of Strauss-Hofmannsthal's work.

No discomfort however in Robin Ticciati and the ever marvellous London Philharmonic's pace and tone, with some exceptional string playing to be heard in the presentation of the rose scene, combined with fine dark tones from the brass section throughout.

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