In the final scene of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, just as the Marschallin is about to leave her lover, Octavian, to the younger woman, she says to Sophie: "No need to talk so much. You're pretty, that's enough." But is it? For those who hope that Octavian will come to his senses and leave the air-headed ingnue before it's too late, David McVicar's production plants some hopeful clues. Indeed, Octavian only just stops short of following the Marschallin out of that final scene, almost sparing us that saccharin duet between the young lovers. I reckon McVicar gives them about a month together.
The great thing about this staging, first seen at Scottish Opera, is its detail. McVicar's set design (with Michael Vale) hints at a fairy-tale artificiality, but within this world human nature is up to its old tricks. McVicar is especially good on period manners, and the scene where Sophie's duenna (a delicious Janice Cairns) "adjudicates" the first meeting between her and Octavian is played for all it's worth.
Another unique elaboration is the relationship between Baron Ochs (John Tomlinson) and his bastard son, Leopold (Harry Ward), who shadows his every move and jumps to his every whim. And that includes serving as dance partner for the Baron's favourite waltz tune. On cold winter nights one imagines them going through their old routines. No woman has ever stayed around long enough to take Leopold's place on the dance floor.
Dance is, of course, of the essence in Strauss's refulgent score and Edward Gardner and the ENO Orchestra give it all the sweep and swoon you could wish for. Better yet is the way in which Gardner has tapped into its capriciousness. If you've ever wondered what happened to the Strauss of Elektra in Der Rosenkavalier, then listen to Gardner.
Cast-wise, there is international quality at work. Sarah Connolly is an outstanding Octavian virile, sulky, petulant, her voice so ripe for the role that nothing is forced. Janice Watson (the Marschallin) knows a thing or two about radiance in Strauss but needs to work on varying the conversational tone of the role.
Sarah Tynan (Sophie) bounces in like a fluffy meringue and adds whipped cream for her stratospheric flights of fancy. She is precisely the kind of dessert Baron Ochs likes that's after he's pushed it around his plate a bit. John Tomlinson, ruddy of face and voice, is now so inside Ochs that you wonder how he is at home. He's at home here. A quality evening.
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