Der Rosenkavalier, ENO

Director David McVicar’s self-designed staging perfectly balances
detail and spaciousness — an accomplished feat and a productive one;
although the score is complex and infinitely nuanced, McVicar has been able to
identify which details to foreground visually and which to allow to reside in
the musical foundations. So, there is finely judged attention to detail but the
resulting drama is not fussy or cluttered.

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_2.gifAmanda Roocroft as The Feldmarschallin

A single backdrop suffices: a curving Regency interior, slightly past its
prime but still offering elegant evidence of the stylish sophistications of
yesteryear — much like the Marschallin herself. Gilt and bronze drapes,
curling creepers and cobwebbed chandeliers create a fairy-tale
otherworldliness, and this is enhanced by Paule Constable’s clever
lighting which, evoking subdued candlelight — the front of stage decked
with row of crumbling candles (which Valzacchi snappily switches on at the
start of the Mariendal scene) — establishes an ethereal distance. And, in
the fading light of Act 1, a deepening, looming shadow of the Marschallin
provides a visual echo of the ‘former’ self whose passing she

McVicar’s direction judiciously mixes dense and intricate movements
— as during the spooking of Ochs in the inn scene, when tumblers and
goblins cavort and cartwheel wildly across the stage — with gentler
gestures which flow as organically as Strauss’s score, particularly in
the closing moments. The extremes of the wide stage are deployed to depict the
emotional distance between characters; and at the close to emphasise the
Marschallin’s isolation from the young lovers.

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_4.gifSophie Bevan as Sophie

John Tomlinson’s Baron Ochs of Lerchenau is a Falstaffian scally-wag,
with all the bluff, swagger and ultimately forgivable self-interest of his
Shakespearean predecessor. We may cringe at his hapless fumbling after any
helpless female within arm’s reach; find his empty boasts and groundless
vanity infuriating and his class-obsessed condescension distasteful. But, his
candid self-knowledge and readiness to greet defeat with big-hearted generosity
win our tolerance, tenderness and even, in the end, our pity. This is a comic
turn par excellence, one which fortunately does not lapse into
caricature; and, the humour is never achieved at the expense of musical control
or accuracy. A master of crisp diction, Tomlinson’s every syllable is
crystal clear. Weighty but flexible, his bright, gleaming tone is a joy, and it
loses none of its gloss as he descends to the depths of his register. It may be
a little over-strained at the top, but who cares? This Ochs relishes the
amorous games even if they end in a rout; and Tomlinson’s complete
delight in the theatrical and musical world which encompasses him is equally

As the elegant Marschallin, Amanda Roocroft is regal of bearing and radiant
of voice; if she doesn’t quite have the velvety roundness of the ideal
Straussian heroine, she uses light and shade to movingly reveal the
Marschallin’s insecurities, the piano reflections of her Act 1 monologue
wistfully conveying muted resignation.

The lustrous spin of Sophie Bevan’s response to the bestowal of the
silver rose would melt the shining breastplate of even the most cold-blooded
Rosenkavalier. Bevan captures both the tempestuousness of the feisty
adolescent and the nascent serenity of the mature woman within. This Sophie is
no slight soubrette; and in the Act 3 trio the Marschallin clearly
recognises her rival’s powerful charm and determined will.

Sarah Connolly inhabits the eponymous envoy’s breeches with total
authority, utterly convincing as the excitable young romancer who learns that
the path of true love never quite runs smooth. By turns ebullient and grave,
bullish and wistful, Connolly has unostentatiously mastered every nuance of
character, even adopting a convincing rural brogue for the Act 3 deception of
Ochs. Particularly resounding in her upper register, Connolly’s doubtful
hesitation when forced to choose between past and future loves is painfully

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_1.gifAdrian Thompson as Valzacchi, Sir John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs and Madeleine Shaw as Annina

A master of comic timing, Andrew Shore is typically impressive as the
exasperated Herr von Faninal; Shore alone matched Tomlinson in his use of the
text, though as his partner-in crime, Annina, Madeleine Shaw is confident and
vocally arresting. And, there are many fine performances from those taking the
smaller character roles, including Jennifer Rhys-Davis as Sophie’s
chaperone — her urgent proddings with her fan keep her young charge
firmly in line during her conversation with the rose bearer — and Gwyn
Hughes Jones who produces a stunning Italianate glean as he entertains the
Marschallin in Act 1 (and whose petulant flounce and pout indicates his
irritation when his star turn is prematurely halted!). Ericson Mitchell is
rather older than the prepubescent boys who are usually cast to play Mohammed,
the Marschallin’s page, and I’m not sure his crafty retrieval of
Sophie’s handkerchief and bold final bow to the audience really captures
the cheeky breeziness of the closing bars of the score; but his presence does
add an edgy touch of adolescent knowingness to the goings-on in the
Marschallin’s boudoir.

Edward Gardner’s reading of Strauss’s wonderfully evocative score is
expansive and luscious. He creates an opulent but airy bed of sound through
which a multitude of minutiae effortlessly reveal themselves: sinuous,
seductive clarinet coils; impassioned horn commentaries; rising celli climaxes.
Tempi are at times quite idiosyncratic — the final trio is slow, and
Och’s waltzes wistfully elongated — but this complements, rather
than negates, the dramatic flow. This is superb orchestral playing with
scarcely a note out-of-place or ill-judged; the precision of chamber music
within a vast orchestral canvas.

Claire Seymour

image_description=Sarah Connolly as Octavian [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
product_title=Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
product_by=The Feldmarschallin: Amanda Roocroft; Octavian: Sarah Connolly; Baron Ochs: John Tomlinson; Valzacchi: Adrian Thompson; Annina: Madeleine Shaw; Sophie: Sophie Bevan; Herr von Faninal: Andrew Shore. Conductor: Edward Gardner. Director/Set Designer: David McVicar. Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin. Lighting Designer: Paule Constable. English National Opera, London, Wednesday, 1st February 2012.
product_id=Above: Sarah Connolly as Octavian

Photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera