Notes and Editorial Reviews
From the not too distant past, here comes a live
Rosenkavalier from the Royal Opera House. It boasts several splendid assumptions of the central characters. The production was first seen and heard in 1984 and of the original cast Barbara Bonney’s Sophie was still with us in 1995. She can be seen on a Warner DVD from 1985 of that production and also on DG from Vienna 1994, where Kurt Moll is Ochs. Anna Tomowa-Sintow had been singing the Marschallin since 1979 and was well inside the role, having recorded it under Karajan for DG in 1984; Kurt Moll was Ochs there too. As for Ann Murray I haven’t been able to find another recording so admirers of her Octavian can at last add this one to their collection.
A BBC recording from as recently as 1995 is technically more or less on a par with studio efforts of the same vintage and, apart from the unavoidable stage noises, I have no qualms about recommending it. The Covent Garden orchestra play well but in so long and technically challenging work as
Rosenkavalier there have to be some blemishes. If it had been planned to issue the performance on CD from the outset there could have been some mopping up and even attempts to remove some of the stage noises. As it is this is a valuable document of a fine evening in the opera house. It may not surpass the best recordings from the past – Erich Kleiber, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti and Bernard Haitink still stand supreme – but no one will seriously regret the purchase and I am sure I will return to it occasionally.
I can’t remember ever hearing an opera recording with Andrew Davis but he gives a very positive impression. There’s a fine rhythmic lilt in the marvellous waltzes that permeate this opera. Even so, he can’t quite compare with Kleiber for Viennese charm, nor with Solti for the rustic ebullience of the scenes with Ochs and his nasty pack. Karajan in his first recording, with the Philharmonia, has an analytic brilliance that has never been surpassed. But it is unfair to compare a live recording with meticulously prepared studio-based discs. The fact is that this is a fresh reading that can bear repetition.
The singing sports a few blemishes but it is still a pleasure to hear so experienced a cast and especially the four principals. Anna Tomowa-Sintow is rather wobbly at the beginning and though she soon recovers she still has a vibrato that sometimes becomes disturbing. Against this can be quoted many passages where her experience and involvement reap laurels. In the first act she invests considerable art in the monologue
Die Zeit die ist ein sonderbar Ding. This is one of those magic moments in this opera – and in all opera – and it brings at least this listener somewhat closer to Heaven every time I hear it. Here her enunciation of the text and the intimacy of her address is close to the best readings I have heard: Elisabeth Söderström in Stockholm, Felicity Lott in Vienna and Soile Isokoski in Helsinki to mention three live occasions. Then there’s Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Régine Crespin on record.
Ann Murray’s Octavian is also vibrant but she has almost tangible presence. The fencing scene in act II is truly vivid and dramatic, though it is always better when seen as well as heard. In the last act her impersonation of Mariandl is almost grotesque. But that was probably Strauss’s intention.
Kurt Moll is uncharacteristically rusty to begin with – maybe he wasn’t properly warmed-up – but he quickly overcomes this. For the rest of the performance he is his usual confident self with pitch black bottom notes and sonorous singing overall. And he is expressive – and less of the boar that one traditionally expects Ochs to be. After all he is a baron and has learnt some manners! At the confrontation with Sophie he lightens his voice considerably and is honeyed and seductive. Later in the act his monologue
Da lieg’ ich is sung with such exquisite nuance that one suddenly remembers that Kurt Moll was also a great Lieder singer.
Barbara Bonney was for many years
the Sophie and this recording goes a long way to prove why. This is not one of those shy, innocent, whimpering little girls but ‘an adolescent on the verge of womanhood, fighting for what she wants, fighting against parental authority’ as Ms Bonney is quoted saying in the booklet. ‘She has to have guts.’ Her reading is one of the best on any recording, and though others may have sung the opening phrases of the duet in act II with more ethereal pianissmo, she is marvellous throughout.
Alan Opie is a good Faninal and it is fantastic to note that fifteen years later his Music Master in the new Chandos recording of
Ariadne on Naxos sounds just about the same. He has managed to preserve his voice admirably through a long career! Leah-Marian Jones sings a lovely Annina and Bonaventura Bottone sings the Italian tenor’s
Di rigori armato beautifully and with restraint.
For a library recording choose Karajan (EMI) or Solti (Decca) but this live recording also has a great deal to offer.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Full libretto available online at www.opusarte.com