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Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier / Thielemann, Fleming, Damrau, Koch

Release Date: 10/06/2009 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001343109  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Franz GrundheberJonas KaufmannJane HenschelDiana Damrau,   ... 
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This 2009 production from Baden-Baden with the Munich Philharmonic finds both Renée Fleming and Christian Thielemann in spectacular form, with an assisting cast that is marvelous. Herbert Wernicke had directed Fleming at Salzburg in 1995; this performance seven years after his death, directed by assistants, remains a fascinating, unusual, but moving (and often very funny) staging. Wernicke, who also designed, used huge shifting mirrors to emphasize the importance of appearances in a story whose central character has an unusually acute self awareness and where the narrative tension is between superficial propriety and unmanageable sexual impulses.

Wernicke updates the opera to
Read more the early 1930s and adds a Pierrot who plays the role of the Moorish child who serves the Marschallin, and appears later, both at the start of Act 2 and to great effect at the very end. There’s no missing Wernicke’s insight. He and Fleming use as key the Marschallin’s remark that she feels the passing of time “mit gar so klarem Sinn”—too clearly, almost as pain. She takes us on this character’s journey from the teasing ageless lady lolling in bed (after what the prelude tells us has been a wild night with the 17-year-old Octavian, a wonderful Sophie Koch), to the mature woman on whom the events of the long first act wear viscerally.

Fleming’s Marschallin is impatient, smarter than the people around her, capable of a feline cruelty—and finally, deeply vulnerable. When in the final scene of the act she tries to explain what she feels to young Octavian, she lashes out with bitterness, even anger. This is played by her and Koch (supported with amazing flexibility by Thielemann) as a real scene, constantly changing, as the characters repeatedly reach out only to miss one another. Fleming’s Marschallin understands that she is asking a boy to somehow understand and, worse, comfort her about the inevitability of change. The boy is deeply hurt, not selfishly but because as played here, it is so hard to really understand the distress of another human being.

Wernicke’s staging is frank—Octavian in his underwear is lolling in an armchair with a post-coital scotch and cigarette at the opera’s start. But the Marschallin’s morning proceeds inexorably, the many visitors are wittily though broadly characterized. They include an Italian tenor (Jonas Kaufmann, no less), who arrives with press agent and photographers. The first verse of his song is sung straight (and spectacularly, with thrilling high B-flats and an easy C-flat). Then he gulps spaghetti! In the remaining acts the comic stretches are staged flamboyantly and are sometimes “naughty”; in Act 3 Wernicke introduces an interesting scene change—these are big choices, carefully worked out and very effective.

Thielemann points Strauss’ motifs with insight, handles the waltzes infectiously, and provides a ravishing sonority. He takes a big risk with the famous Act 3 trio, building it very slowly indeed; but the three women come through thrillingly. Fleming can float easy high notes, spin out long phrases on endless breaths, and call on a fully developed chest register—never needing to “sing speak” or bark as many do. Some mugging aside, Koch’s distinctive face and elegance are ideal; her voice is lovely, only occasionally stressed by some of Octavian’s high writing (the role was written for a soprano). Diana Damrau floats gorgeously through Sophie’s high lines and plays this (unexpected) spitfire with hilarious menace, directing killer glances at the otiose Baron Ochs, her father’s choice for her husband. Franz Hawlata is a capable Ochs but lacks a ripe tone. The supporting singers are wonderful: Franz Grundheber as Faninal is great, and Jane Henschel is a terrific Annina, just to mention two.

The Carlos Kleiber performance, from Munich, 1979 (DG) has breathtaking precision and clarity, yet he always maintains the illusion of spontaneity. The production is very traditional with some business and character choices that probably go back to the opera’s first years (he also takes the usual cuts, Thielemann does not). Like the conductor, Gwyneth Jones is a one-of-a-kind performer; here she sings lightly and mostly beautifully. Though she can assume the manner of a great lady, this Marschallin clearly was a tomboy, and remains one—it’s a performance of wonderful abandon and heart.

I wouldn’t want to be without these two DVDs, even simply to listen to, but Erich Kleiber’s spectacular recording on Decca (1954), and the film with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (now on a Kulter blu-ray), despite the lip-synching, are also self recommending.

-- Albert Innaurato, ClassicsToday.com

Filmed in January 2009 at the Baden-Baden Festival, the production features a stylish pastiche of vast mirrors, Viennese Baroque decorations, Hollywood-esque staircases and early 20th century evening wear.

Renée’s eminent Strauss collaborator on her recent Four Last Songs album, Christian Thielemann, joins her once again, conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

Renée Fleming (Marschallin)
Sophie Koch (Octavian)
Diana Damrau (Sophie)
Franz Hawlata (Baron Ochs)
Jonas Kaufmann (The Italian Tenor)
Franz Grundheber (Faninal)
Jane Henschel (Annina)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Stage Director: Herbert Wernicke
TV Director: Brian Large

Number of discs: 2 DVDs
Recorded: Baden-Baden, January 2009
Subtitles: English, French, German (sung language), Spanish, Chinese
Picture Format: 16:9 (anamorphic widescreen), Color

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Works on This Recording

Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Franz Grundheber (Baritone), Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor), Jane Henschel (Mezzo Soprano),
Diana Damrau (Soprano), Renée Fleming (Soprano), Sophie Koch (Mezzo Soprano),
Franz Hawlata (Bass)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909-1910; Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Great singing and playing, questionable production April 17, 2012 By Benjamin F. (Valley City, ND) See All My Reviews "Der Rosenkavalier is one of my favorite operas, and with Diana Damrau singing a prominent role in this production, I had to get it. The singing, both from Damrau and others, is excellent. The acting is also quite good; Sophie Koch in particular stands out as an excellent Octavian. As for the rest of the production; it's unconventional, and I can't say that I liked many aspects of it. Basically, the production moves the plot ahead to the early 20th century. While on some level this could work (after all, the original libretto itself has some anachronisms, to say nothing of the use of waltz music), it comes off as very hokey in some places (the cigarette smoking sure didn't help). So, I wouldn't ever recommend this unless you've seen a standard production of Der Rosenkavalier that stays truer to the core opera. If you're already well used to it, then go head; as I said, the music is phenomenal." Report Abuse
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