Opera: How to grow old gracefully
Tuesday 09 February 1999
STRAUSS'S MARSCHALLIN in Der Rosenkavalier is supposed to be aged 32, but the part is usually taken by a singer rather further into her years. In fact, there is an accepted progress from the ingenue role of Sophie to the senior part, normally reserved for an established diva.
The Scottish Opera's Marschallin, Joan Rodgers, is, of course, an established diva. However, with her slight and pretty figure she looks like a young girl, and the voice is essentially lyric. Given the customary suspension of disbelief, she would pass excellently as Sophie, with, say, Anne Evans as the Marschallin. Casting Rodgers as the older woman put a strain on the Sophie (here, the brightly focused Lisa Milne), who had to seem younger and prettier, and on the whole balance of the action, for the opera is chiefly about a woman who sees her youth slipping away.
This strain was worsened initially by a conductor, Richard Armstrong, who held the rhythms too tightly corseted. He relaxed a little as things progressed. The effect was to give a special poignancy to the end of Act 1, in which Rodgers wistfully recalled her teenage years; the soft warmth of the voice, the bewitching smile that hovered always near her lips, the quiet self-possession, gave the lightest of touches to this moment of pathos, a bit shallow but nevertheless heartfelt. As the grand patrician, she was less credible, and you worried that she might lose control of the stageful of dubious characters in Act 3.
Indeed, it was a bit of a surprise when this young, pretty thing was able to command the boy Octavian out of the room at the close of Act 1. For this Octavian (Stella Doufexis) was a tall, gallant, fiery character with flashing eyes and a voice that was vibrant and comprehensive. It was a totally convincing portrayal of the impulsive young male.
If Rodgers shed a new light on the Marschallin, then Peter Rose gave a new meaning to Baron Ochs. A heavyweight baritone, he was able to give force and power to what is usually a boorish pantaloon; you felt for him when he longed for the unsophisticated country life in a Vienna of tricks and conspiracies.
It was impressive how closely these fine principals had worked with the producer, David McVicar. Any producer can get the chorus to group well, but to get soloists to turn their heads away at just the moment when the harmony clouds, or to slow in mid-gesture when Strauss suddenly imposes a piano, takes real authority. McVicar had designed his own set, an elegant room with heavy drapes and candles, and Tanya McCallin provided sumptuously colour-coded costumes.
There were some precious vignettes: Joanna Campion was a snakey Annina, Phyllis Cannan a ludicrously shocked Marianne, and Harry Ward, in the non-singing part of Ochs' bastard Leopold, was a deliciously greasy sloven. There was plenty to admire in this production; even the audience at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, showed some real enthusiasm for once.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 4 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 5 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin set to attend
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
George R. R. Martin responds to 13-year-old fan's 'heartfelt' letter asking for a grisly death in Game of Thrones
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains