Proms 2014 - Prom 6: Der Rosenkavalier

Prom 6 was the first opera of the season - the Glyndebourne Festival production of Der Rosenkavalier in Richard Strauss' 150th anniversary year.  The original theatre production caused something of a stir: partially because of dubious interior design and partially over the dressing of the one of the leads.  The dressing issue blurred in the minds of the less observant into a furore about the suitability of said lead.  

Some disgraceful people questioned whether that lead wasn't the wrong shape for the role.  A spat ensued and others - me included - said that such charges were ridiculous and deeply offensive.  It seems for some, opera is more about looking than singing: they are a sad minority I suspect.  We can justifiably, if they stoop this low, ignore their views: their judgements are forever tarnished.

The cast were pretty much as in the Sussex countryside: Hawlata came in as Ochs and Alder as Sophie - both blended into a ensemble well given this was at the end of a long run: this was their final outing.

Kate Royal soprano (Marschallin)
Tara Erraught mezzo-soprano (Octavian )
Franz Hawlata bass (Baron Ochs)
Louise Alder soprano, Proms debut artist (Sophie)
Michael Kraus baritone, Proms debut artist (Herr von Faninal)
Miranda Keys soprano (Marianne)
Christopher Gillett tenor (Valzacchi)
Helene Schneiderman mezzo-soprano, Proms debut artist (Annina)
Gwynne Howell bass (Notary)
Andrej Dunaev tenor, Proms debut artist (Italian Singer)
Robert Wörle tenor, Proms debut artist (Innkeeper)
Scott Conner bass, Proms debut artist (Police Inspector)
Glyndebourne Festival Opera
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Robin Ticciati conductor
Sarah Fahie stage director

All of the seats
were full at the start of the Prom: there were many gaps in the Arena and Gallery.  Too many people left after the second act and they missed some of the opera's and this productions finest moments.  It was hot in the RAH though not as hot as Rheingold at the same time last year and Rosenkavalier benefits from intervals.  There is always the chance that a Tuesday night is no good for these things and also the possibility that the finest of Strauss' comedies is no longer as appealing as it has been in the past - though this was the first outing for the full opera at the BBC Proms

Robin Ticciati led the London Philharmonic Orchestra placed between the audience and the singers. He succeeded in keeping the orchestra down for the most part and steering it smoothly over the vast pages of the score. He moved unhurried but there was an urgency of attack that was missing. I'm beginning to think such things are not deemed desirable for this orchestra - to their credit they never linger. That said, for an orchestra that has been playing this work all summer there were still lumpy entries and bland phrasing - but who knows how sapping the heat was for the players.  The off stage orchestra has been commented upon - for me it's timbre and volume didn't match the number of players assembled the other side of the Gallery.  And the attitude of the players who were thwarted by a locked door preventing them going round to the organ was worth the admission price - if that's evidence of their attitudes then they are a very haughty lot.

My position in the hall wasn't ideal for hearing the singers but the radio replaced what I'd missed.  Kate Royal is an imperious and by turns vulnerable Marschallin - statuesque and beautiful and in fullest command of the role. Erraught was a characterful Mariandel and suitably slack jawed in her German.  As Octavian she was passionate and impetuous and confused by turns.  Her voice was sometimes lost against the orchestra in the big hall - Strauss' operas were not designed for venues like the RAH.  But her winning combination of talent and charm was fully evident throughout her time on stage.  It's a shame the prommers didn't laugh more heartily - the comedy was broad and simple - but Erraught has a great talent and it's that the critics can discuss.  Louise Alder's Sophie was just the job in the company of these two fine singers and she did magnificently as a replacement Teodora Gheorghiu (who tweeted her regretful withdrawal).  Her voice was powerful and clear and true - hitting the emotional high spots every time.

The rest of the cast were very fine showing their Glyndebourne pedigree: Gillett and Schneidermann's patter was lost somewhat in the big hall but brilliantly revealed on the radio as exemplary.  Miranda Keys was a cut above your usual Duenna castings and the many other characters in the huge cast were excellent.  They I did wonder what the line of women at the back of the stage were all about - were they singers or extras?

The true test of this opera and it's singers is the final act and there was so much to savour from Hawlata's indignation to the touching embrace between Erraught and Alder at the end. The acid test of the female leads is the famous trio and the 5 mins of intense and moving writing either side.  Strauss himself was most proud of the Marschallin's line "Ja, Ja". I fear some will regret missing a very fine reading which was beautifully sung and supported well from the orchestra - it created a wonderful atmosphere in the huge house.  I'm not sure they will get that from the radio.

The end of Act 3 represents a series of dramatic transitions deep -rooted in self reflection moving from the pantomime of Ochs to the Trio of three women considering their paths to the close.  The three ladies showed an forceful and commanding sense of self and togetherness in the trio - it was desperately moving and still ambiguous.  One might justifiably look to side with the character who has suffered the greatest loss in this opera - I used to do so.  But in this reading the Field Marshall's wife will have other suitors, Sophie will be happy to have dodge a bullet and have the older woman's blessing and Octavian will "...with that strange as happy as any man knows how to be".

In the pit Ticciati was careful with the light toned and sometimes bland London Philharmonic Orchestra - he led this long work well and with enthusiasm but without letting the score shine through often enough.  I think the placing of the singers at the back was a mistake - they struggled over the orchestra in the first act and the intimacy of many moments - comedy included - was lost so far a way from the crowd.  The off stage orchestra musicians - some of whom got lost in the Gallery and were haughtily dismissive as we tried to direct them. One with an outstretched arm, raised a hand in "stop" gesture and intoned "WE ARE PERFORMERS" and promptly struggled to open a clearly locked door.....Curiously the off stage orchestra sounded like a much bigger body of players than they looked.....

Staging was limited and barely noticeable though managed to offend some.

A much more satisfying result of the evening was the elucidation of small details in the score  the light-toned LPO allowed us to hear - hints from tone poems, operas and shrewd chamber orchestration.  This is Strauss' year and it was so satisfying to hear an orchestra and singers who put him first. 


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