Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: Der Rosenkavalier; Tosca

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: Der Rosenkavalier; Tosca

Article excerpt

Shiny swags of gold cloth hang in front of the curtain before David McVicar's production of Der Rosenkavalier , and that's good. You want a touch of luxury in a Rosenkavalier . This is 20th-century opera's great sinful, indulgent treat. Think of it and you think of Karajan and Schwarzkopf: huge creamy voices, silken Viennese strings, and New York Met production budgets.

In truth, when Der Rosenkavalier gets under your skin, none of that matters. It's not the glittering set pieces that turn out to be the real heart of the thing; not even the final Trio or the justly famous sequences in which the Marschallin ponders the transience of youth. They're all essential, of course -- the drama's whole driving force is the tension between outward show and private reality. But what sticks with you are sudden, evanescent moments: a key change, a woodwind chord, the way two characters brush hands or meet each other's eye. Almost unprecedentedly in the history of the art form, Richard Strauss and his co-creator Hugo von Hofmannsthal invented this story and these characters with the sole intention of letting music give them life. 'Profundity must be hidden,' said Hofmannsthal. 'Where? On the surface.' At its best, Der Rosenkavalier evokes the fleeting, piercing sweetness of life as it's lived with an immediacy that's unmatched in any other opera.

Which is a long way of saying that Der Rosenkavalier 's ripeness needs to be bruised slightly if it's to release its full flavour. McVicar's well-worn 1999 production is a good starting point. Traditional in style, it's previously been seen at both Scottish Opera and ENO, where it looked too small for the Coliseum. Leeds Grand Theatre suits it much better; the russets, greens and golds glow like one of the Hogarths that were Hofmannsthal's inspiration, and the individual performances come across vividly. McVicar makes all the big moments work. The Marschallin's chaotic morning levée in Act One is clearly laid out, and Octavian's grand entry in silver armour for Act Two's presentation scene is as dazzling to the eye as Strauss's score is to the ear.

From that base, revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall has roughed the show up a bit; and again, that's all to the good. The comedy can be broad. Baron Ochs's wordless servant Leopold (Mark Burghagen) carries on like a randy Jack Russell, though in Henry Waddington's performance Ochs, usually the worst offender for Germanic buffoonery, cuts a remarkably aristocratic -- even elegant -- figure. …

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