Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

John Schlesinger’s venerable 1984 staging of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier slips ever more ungraciously into the realms of regional pantomime.

Cinderella might easily have lost her shoe on the steps of the newly ennobled Faninal’s wedding cake of a palace in act two - but even a man of such dubious taste would surely have attended to the wobbling walls and dirty windows. Sorry, but it’s had its day - the Royal Opera urgently needs a new Rosenkavalier. Even Maria Bjornson’s luscious costumes are beginning to look decidedly ghostly.

Still, the ghosts of revivals past constitute a most distinguished roll call and even the imbalances of this lively revival don’t detract too much from the pleasures. Kirill Petrenko affords us an unusually horny (that’s the French variety) account of the prelude – and that energy is nicely carried over into the playfulness of the opening scene where enough is plainly not enough for Sophie Koch’s vibrant and libidinous Octavian. Her lissom boyishness plays well against the poise of Soile Isokoski’s thoughtfully inflected Marschallin. She’s of the lighter Lisa Della Casa line of casting in the role and lovely though the performance and much of the singing is, there’s an absence of bloom – particularly at the top of the voice – which somewhat diminishes her aristocratic air. In the final trio she is conspicuously out-sung by the delicious Sophie of Lucy Crowe and that’s an imbalance that Strauss did not envisage in his opulent three-part counterpoint.

Crowe gives a performance of terrific spirit and charm in the role displaying fabulous control above the stave but I really don’t buy the frivolous euphoria of the young lovers after the Marschallin’s final exit. Octavian has too much respect – and love – for her to feel that kind of release. And a certain ambiguity must remain.

So what of that “clown of a cousin”, Baron Ochs? Well, Peter Rose sings him rather tastefully, even elegantly, but I don’t get enough of the man’s boorishness. Good on Rose for not giving us the stock pantomime baron but he could afford to be riper and ruder and especially so in those malodorous descents to where singing ends and flatulence begins.

I enjoyed Petrenko’s highly animated account of the score - though not even he could enliven that awful first scene of act three - and it was good to see Thomas Allen adding a 50th role, that of Faninal (a kind of 18th century Basil Fawlty), to his astonishing list of Royal Opera achievements.