About this Recording
8.111011-13 - STRAUSS, R.: Rosenkavalier (Der) (Reining, Jurinac, Kleiber) (1954)

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss was the most significant German operatic composer after Richard Wagner and one of the most influential in this genre during the first two decades of the twentieth century. His operas Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909) initially shocked conservative opera audiences with their supposedly obscene treatment of biblical and classical subjects. His next opera, Der Rosenkavalier, to a libretto by Hugo von Hoffmansthal, in what was to be the second of their collaborations, was a radical change in both character and musical language. It would be a ‘burlesque opera in three acts’, later revised to read ‘comedy with music’. It was as if Strauss, now aged 47, had decided to turn away from the raw intensity and dramatic fervour of the two earlier operas by moving backwards to a genial, more conservative look back at Viennese life at the end of the eighteenth century. The young lion had now cast off his radical youth.

The new opera was a great triumph for both composer and librettist at its Dresden première on 26th January 1911, thanks in no small part to the producer, Max Reinhardt, and within a very short time moved into the repertoire of the world’s principal opera-houses, where it is has remained. Within the first year Der Rosenkavalier was given in Berlin, Vienna and Milan, and, two years later, in London and New York. Strauss employs a huge orchestra of 112 instruments, including nineteen for an on-stage ensemble in the third act, but the opera exemplifies the composer’s desire to write a ‘Mozart’ opera in which the blending of innocent youthful lovers is contrasted with high and low aspects of Viennese life. As a conductor Strauss was considered one of the great Mozart conductors of his time, as can be witnessed from his recordings of certain of the composer’s symphonies

Interestingly, Strauss composed the three principal rôles for three sopranos and bass. (The rôle of Oktavian can be and is now regularly sung by a mezzo-soprano.) The tenor voice is given slight attention except for the small part of the Italian Tenor in Act One. The rôle of the Feldmarschallin is one of the most challenging interpretatively in the German repertoire, as she is on stage for whole of the first act. Furthermore Strauss stated the woman was to be young and beautiful, only 32 years old, but in a bad mood, thinking of herself as ‘old’. The young lovers Octavian and Sophie are in their late teens, while the Marschallin’s country-bred cousin Ochs, a rustic beau of 35. He is not a disgusting, vulgar monster, and is, after all, a member of the gentry. Strauss later commented that the whole is ‘Viennese comedy, not Berlin farce’.

The Decca Record Company had begun recording complete operas in Vienna in June 1950, beginning with Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail under Josef Krips. During the following years various other operatic projects were undertaken with varying success. The year 1954, however, was significant with two operas by Richard Strauss being recorded, Salome under Clemens Krauss in March and Der Rosenkavalier under Erich Kleiber in June. A total of 22 sessions were set aside for the latter between 29th May and 28th June. Other purely orchestral recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic under both Böhm and Kubelík, however, were also to be undertaken during this period. Decca’s Artistic Director Maurice Rosengarten had negotiated with the authorities at the Staatsoper that the singers he wanted would be those currently used in the then current production. It was wisely decided that the recording would be complete, the first time this had occurred. Victor Olof, Decca’s senior recording producer in London, who had been in charge of all the Company’s activities in Vienna since 1950, would be in overall charge of the project with one of his new assistants, James Walker, alongside. The principal engineer would be Cyril Windebank with Jack Law as his assistant. This would be the single largest project undertaken by Decca to date in Vienna, and as it so happened, the last purely mono-only operatic recording to be made by the Company in the Austrian capital, then still under Allied occupation.

The rôle of the Marschallin was taken by the Viennese-born soprano Maria Reining (1903-1971). Originally she had planned a career in banking but began studying singing in her native city after the age of 25. Making her début at the Staatsoper as a soubrette in 1931, the soprano later moved to Darmstadt (1933-35) before joining the Staatsoper in Munich in 1935 for two years. Returning to Vienna, she would continue singing regularly at the Staatsoper until 1958. She appeared at the Salzburg Festival between 1937 and 1941 as Eva (Meistersinger) under Toscanini, Euryanthe, Elisabeth (Tannhäuser) and the Countess (Figaro). She returned to that festival in 1947 in the title-rôle of Arabella in 1947, followed two years later as the Marschallin, a rôle she would repeat in 1953. Her overseas appearances were restricted to Covent Garden in 1938 singing Elsa (Lohengrin) and in Chicago later that same year as Eva and Butterfly. Her Marschallin graced the Parisian stage in 1949, the year in which she appeared in New York at the City Center Opera, again in the Rosenkavalier rôle and as Ariadne. She was an admired artist with a wellschooled voice allied to an elegant and aristocratic stage manner.

Her Octavian is the Jugoslav-born Austrian soprano Sena (Srebrencka) Jurinac (born 1921). After study at the Music Academy in Zagreb she made her début in that city as Mimì in La Bohème in 1942, joining the Vienna State Opera in 1945 when she appeared in the first post-war performance singing Cherubino in Figaro under Josef Krips. Her Salzburg Festival début took place in 1947, the year she also first appeared in London with the visiting Vienna Company. The following year Jurinac sang Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Glyndebourne Opera at the Edinburgh Festival, which created a very considerable impression. She also appeared at La Scala, Milan as Cherubino. From 1951- 56 she sang all the principal Mozart rôles at Glyndebourne, recording both the Countess in Figaro and Ilia in Idomeneo. Jurinac sang Oktavian in the opening performance at the new Grosser Festspielhaus in 1960 at Salzburg under Karajan, a rôle she later recorded on film. She appeared regularly in London between 1959 and 1963 singing Leonore in Fidelio in Klemperer’s production of the opera in 1961. Her American début was in the title rôle of Madama Butterfly in San Francisco in 1959. Sena Jurinac was generally considered one of the outstanding artists of her time when her rôles also included Marzelline in Fidelio, the two Donne (Anna and Elvira) in Don Giovanni, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Elisabeth in Don Carlos and Tannhäuser, Jenuºfa, Desdemona in Otello and Marie in Wozzeck. After retiring from singing she later gave a series of master-classes in a variety of European cities, including London.

The Viennese-born soprano Hilde Gueden (1918- 1988) was cast as Sophie. She studied singing (with Weztelsberger) in addition to piano and dancing at her native Music Academy, soon appearing at the city’s Volksoper in a small rôle in Robert Stolz’s operetta Servus, servus in 1935. She later sang Cherubino in Zurich in 1939 and two years later was engaged by the conductor Clemens Krauss in Munich. It was here that she first sang Sophie, suggested to her by the composer, before appearing in Rome in an Italian language production under Tullio Serafin. After singing Zerlina in Don Giovanni at the 1946 Salzburg Festival, Gueden joined the Vienna State Opera later that year. She first sang in London with the visiting Vienna Company the following year. Her American début took place in 1951 at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, as Gilda in Rigoletto, returning over the ensuing nine seasons as Susanna, Zdenka, Sophie, Anne Truelove, Mimì, Micaëla, Rosalinde and Euridice. In 1954 she sang a dazzling Zerbinetta in Ariadne, followed by Aminta five years later. During the celebrations for the centenary of Richard Strauss’s birth she sang the titlerôle of the composer’s Daphne to great acclaim. She returned to London in 1956 as Gilda. Hilde Gueden was an extremely glamorous and intelligent woman as well as possessing an attractive stage manner. Her repertoire included rôles in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Boris Blacher’s Rund.

Yet another Viennese-born singer was selected as Baron Ochs: he was Ludwig Weber (1899-1974). His singing career came about after he abandoned his profession as an elementary school teacher when he discovered his voice, as a member of the Vienna Oratorio Society, later studying with Alfred Borittau in 1919. His début at the city’s Volksoper was as Fiorello in Il barbiere di Siviglia in 1920. After contracts in a variety of smaller German houses, Wuppertal (1925- 27), Düsseldorf (1927-1932) and Cologne (1932-33), Weber joined the Staatsoper in Munich in 1933, remaining there until 1945. It was whilst there that he created the rôle of the Holsteiner in Strauss’s Friedenstag in 1938. His international career began with appearances in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs- Elysées under Hoesslin when his first recordings were made for Pathé. He sang at Covent Garden in 1936, returning there in 1947 and 1950-51, where his rôles included Pogner, Gurnemanz, Hunding, Hagen, King Marke, Daland, Boris and Osmin. He sang all the principal Wagnerian bass rôles at the Bayreuth Festival during the years 1951-61 as well as appearing in Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels and Buenos Aires. Retiring in 1961, Weber taught at the Mozarteum in Salzburg for a number of years. He possessed a powerful but beautifully produced bass voice that was used intelligently. His admirable portrayal of Ochs continues to be greatly admired.

The singers for the smaller rôles in this recording were all regular members of the Vienna State Opera. It is this Company ‘feel’, blend and teamwork which contributed so markedly to the success of overall recording.

The final Viennese-born (but later naturalised Argentinian) artist to be associated with the famous recording is the conductor Erich Kleiber (1890-1956). Originally he trained as a violinist and studied composition in Vienna, later attending courses on philosophy and the history of art at Prague University; he also studied conducting at the Conservatory in that city. He served as a conductor at the Court Opera in Darmstadt between 1912 and 1918, followed by Wuppertal (1919-21), Mannheim (1922-23), culminating in his appointment as Generalmusikdirecktor of the State Opera in Berlin between 1923 and 1933. His years there were of particular importance with premières of Berg’s Wozzeck, Milhaud’s Christophe Colomb and the introduction of Janáček’s Jenuº fa and Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper. He resigned during the later year, following interference from the new Nazi authorities before the première of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, becoming closely associated with the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires from 1937 until 1949. He also guest conducted in the United States during these years. His Covent Garden début was in 1937 when he conducted Der Rosenkavalier and Der fliegende Holländer. He returned to this house between 1950 and 1953 to conduct memorable performances of Tristan und Isolde, Elektra, The Queen of Spades, Wozzeck and, again, Rosenkavalier. In 1951 he conducted Verdi’s I vespri siciliani at the Florence May Festival with Maria Callas. In 1954 he was re-appointed to his Berlin position, prior to the re-opening of the theatre in September 1955, but again resigned within a few months, once again because of political interference, this time from the Communists. He died in Zurich in January 1956. As a conductor he was renowned for his rigorous rehearsals, his eschewal of sentimental indulgence and his minimal podium exertions. He recorded extensively for a variety of labels, the last of which was Decca from 1948 until his death.

As a performance Kleiber’s wonderfully integrated presentation of Rosenkavalier is rightly regarded as a benchmark for other interpretations, and the contributions of Jurinac and Weber as outstanding, whilst that of Gueden is a highly finished portrayal. The generally perceived view of Maria Reining’s performance is that it was captured slightly too late even if she was the Viennese Marschallin of the time. Nevertheless this recording remains one of the gramophone’s major achievements, especially due to completeness.

Malcolm Walker

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