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David J. Baker
Opera News, June 2011

This BBC radio recording preserves an edgy, energized 1995 performance of Der Rosenkavalier, epitomizing the dedication and intelligence that many operagoers associate particularly with Britain’s Royal Opera.

Without the visual component, though, it is a little harder to overlook some of the baggage that adheres to a seasoned cast. Andrew Davis’s élan on the podium puts the singers to some particular strain. Both the Marschallin (Anna Tomowa-Sintow) and Baron Ochs (Kurt Moll) sang more firmly on Herbert von Karajan’s studio version twelve years earlier; in comparison they are a bit one-sided here. 

Tomowa-Sintow retains gleaming tone at slower tempos, as in the lyrical passages late in Act I and in most of the final trio, but more than ever she is a deliberate, earthbound interpreter who can almost be heard switching gears and preparing certain passages. She conveys too little of the Marschallin’s witty, mercurial temperament, or her irony toward a ruffian like Ochs. 

Moll is still a huge, comically boorish presence, with resonant rusticity in his lower voice and twisted Austrian vowels that you could cut with a knife. The upper reaches of the role give him trouble here, even in some of his waltz tunes, but few Ochses could match the resonance of his sustained low E, which closes Act II in style.

The roles of the young lovers are performed with great spirit and musicality by Ann Murray (Octavian) and Barbara Bonney (Sophie), who conjure something like Brat Pack defiance in Act II, but both leave the listener wanting a bit more sweetness of tone. An ideal Sophie should sound youthful at every moment. Much of Octavian’s music lies high for a mezzo, and Murray shapes it well, despite a certain harshness at strong volume. There is still admirable singing, and the complex, intertwined duet in Act II, “Mit ihren Augen voll Tränen,” emerges with admirable clarity.

The supporting cast shows total commitment, even at the cost of some strained tone. The true stars here are Davis and the Royal Opera Orchestra. The conductor may go a bit overboard in forcing the high strings to an almost satirical “Viennese” sharpness (heard especially in the early phrases and again at the end of Act II), but generally he maintains a remarkable balance between speed and detail. The orchestral opening to Act III crackles with sardonic wit, pulling individual phrases into the limelight to emphasize links to earlier scenes or to make sarcastic points. Octavian’s nasal singing as Mariandel, at a line such as “Wie die Stund’ dahingeht” (How time flies), is mimicked brilliantly by whiny strings and woodwinds. Davis seizes similar opportunities at every turn.



Ivan March
Gramophone, January 2011

A Royal Opera Rosenkavalier live in ’95 with well-drawn characters

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is surely unique in its voluptuous orchestral introduction, opening with soaring virtuoso horns (Strauss’s father was a noted horn player) and then sensuous strings, reaching up to an orgasmic climax, richly sensuous in the hands of Andrew Davis. The Marschallin—whose character came to dominate the opera as it was being written—and the 17-year-old Octavian are making passionate love behind the curtain, and as it draws up, there is no doubt about what has been happening. But Octavian has to hide quickly at the approach of the Marschallin’s cousin, Baron Ochs. He has arrived seeking to marry the opera’s heroine, Sophie, and chooses Octavian as his emissary, carrying a ceremonial silver rose.

All three characters are splendidly drawn here, Octavian (a winning Ann Murray, not too feminine), Baron Ochs (Kurt Moll) with a rich low register to all but dignify his underlying boorishness, and Anna Tomowa-Sintow a commandingly sympathetic, mature and wordly-wise Marschallin, full-toned but at times with a slightly intrusive vibrato. Yet when later she tells her youthful lover how much she is disturbed about the passage of time and the approach of old age, her singing is touchingly beautiful.

The celebrated meeting of Octavian, the silver rose-bearer, with Sophie (Barbara Bonney) in Act 2 is a magic moment, as it must be, with Bonney’s higher register exquisitely controlled. The burlesque horseplay with Ochs and his retinue which follows is vividly managed too, although this a part of the opera which calls for a DVD, or at the very least a translated libretto, which irritatingly is not supplied and is only available online.

Nevertheless, in the great trio of the third act the three voices meld ravishingly, as the Marschallin generously gives the young lovers her blessing, and Sophie and Octavian finally go off rapturously together to another of Strauss’s most memorable yet engagingly simple tunes. Throughout, the orchestral playing under Davis is superb (notably the delicate waltz sequence) and wonderfully supportive for the singers, never more so than in this touching final duet. The recording is fully satisfactory; but enjoyable as it is, I would not chose this Royal Opera set in preference to Schwarzkopf/Karajan or Te Kanawa/Haitink.






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11:43:40 PM, 24 October 2014
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