The Royal Opera House’s Der Rosenkavalier is lavish and eye-catching.
This production is set in the year of the opera’s composition 1911 and as such extends the opera’s message that time passes for individuals into the broader message that ways of life are changing. Thus, the hierarchical and courtly society of which the Marschallin is a part is coming to an end. The set for the second act makes a nod to the coming of war (with the gigantic cannons), the rise of a nouveau riche and the third act refers to a world where debauchery and open bribery blatantly replace more discreet and chivalric pretensions. It is questionable whether the nudity is necessary as it is very obviously set in a brothel. Despite this, I loved these sets which provided a visual metaphor to support the narrative of the opera.
From the horn fanfare of the overture to the delicate flutes in the final duet, the orchestra, under Andris Nelson’s baton, played with vigour and colour. Occasionally orchestral volume could have been more subdued in order not to cover the voices, as occurred in part of the trio in the final act.
The performances of all the lead singers were tremendous. From the moment that Alice Coote entered the stage in a night-shirt, she conveyed the boyish charm of Octavian (a trouser role), endeavouring to be bold at times, love-struck at others. Her chemistry, first with Renée Fleming and then later with Sophie Bevan was believable and thus made the concluding scenes so memorable. The “pretend female” voice employed when in the brothel acting Mariandel (Octavian in disguise) was harsh, I think it truly described the anger felt by Octavian for the manner in which Baron Ochs had treated Sophie. It was commendable how even in some much compromised positions; Alice Coote was able to retain these feelings in her voice. Renée Fleming’s Marschallin convinced in a performance that was elegant throughout. I particularly enjoyed her monologue at the end of Act 1 where each line was like spun gold. The other tremendous vocal performance of the evening came from Matthew Rose, whose clumsy brutality conveyed Baron Ochs’s pomposity well, but his character didn’t recover its strength after the crowd scene in the brothel and his attacks on the Marschallin in the final quartet lack authority and conviction.
Sung in German with English surtitles.