PRODUCTION NOTES / How design can convey the conflict of new and old money in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier

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The Independent Culture
THE theme of class distinction in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is at its most apparent in Act 2, which opens in the palatial new house of the recently ennobled Herr von Faninal, whose daughter Sophie has just become engaged to the noble- born Baron Ochs. David Ritch, associate producer on Jonathan Miller's new staging for English National Opera, explains how the set was designed to reflect this:

'Act 2 is a tricky act: a lot of funny things happen which often are not done very amusingly. You have to give yourself space so that people can see how absurd Ochs, this big bully of a man, is. It's important not to clutter the scene and, once it was decided to update the opera from the 1750s to 1910, we wanted to get rid of all that baroque gilt and glitter, and it seems to have left us a very clean canvas to paint a fresh approach.

'The idea is that the family have bought themselves an extremely expensive palace because they're very jumped up, and have put a lot of glass in the place so all Vienna can have a damn good look in.

'Jonathan and Peter Davison (designer) thrashed the set out between them. Peter is an incredibly practical man of the theatre and occasionally he'd concede that certain ideas were wonderful but unnecessary. But we all oohed and aahed when we saw the set-model, as it would give us wonderful space and light.

'The set we've got is a ballroom - that's why it's so unfurnished - and in one corner there is a huge Makart painting, waiting to be hung, that is typical of Vienna at the turn of the century when the bourgeoisie had moved into the palaces. We thought it the perfect sort of large, luscious painting with nude ladies and lascivious scenes, typical of the bourgeoisie, and probably the biggest one Faninal could find. The idea is that the picture is going to be hung before Sophie von Faninal's projected marriage ceremony and that there will be a huge party where everyone will be shown it.

'On the other side of the set are these neo-classic archers, huge figures of incredible vulgarity that symbolise the taste of the Faninals - they want everything bigger and better. I think the Faninals are the Donald Trumps of their day.'

(Photograph omitted)