Opera Review





A Scottish Opera Production at the London Coliseum




Opera by Richard Strauss

Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal   


Translation: Alfred Kalish

Conductor: Edward Gardner

Director/Designer: David McVicar

Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin



London Coliseum


22 May – 7 June, 2008







A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!



This is the lightest and most charming of comedies, having some of the plot complexities derived from the Commedia dell’Arte.  However, this is not Venice but the Vienna of Marie Therese. The Marschallin (Soprano) has spent the night with her young lover Octavian (Mezzo) It is morning and she is anxious about the return of her husband the Field Marshal, and tells Octavian to hide. However, it is not her husband who appears, but her kinsman the boorish Baron Ochs (Bass) with the news of his coming marriage to the young Sophie Van Faninal.  Now, Octavian reappears disguised as ‘Mariandel’ a serving girl. – Now, this isn’t all that difficult as you will have sussed that the Octavian is played by a woman (that is if you know your mezzos from your tenors) The Baron flirts with the maid, which shows us what a rotter he is, (though he has a splendid voice and one of the best tunes in the Opera!) The main purpose of his visit is to ask for the Marschallin’s help in finding a young nobleman to take a silver rose to his intended – a convention apparently expected in the best circles at the time. 

Another change of costume for Octavian and he/she becomes the Rosenkavalier.
He and Sophie fall in love, of course and the Baron is rejected by Sophie, and tricked in to a foolish assignation with the supposed  ‘Mariandel’  With the help of two Italian intriguers and a great deal of song the Baron is put in his place and the Marschallin gallantly hands Octavian into Sophie’s eager arms.   


 Der Rosenkavalier played an important part in my life – it was part of my musical awakening – and I needed to be awakened. You see, my home background had always been the drama –Shakespeare and Shaw rather than Verdi and Wagner.  I suppose I heard it first in my twenties and I was spellbound by the richness of the sounds, and the incredible beauty of the vocal harmonies and I played the long playing record till it could be played no more. At various times I have renewed my acquaintance with it in performance and, on disc and have never failed to enjoy it, but the trouble with ‘ideal’ versions of the imagination is that the actual has difficulty in measuring up.  There are naturally things in the present production by the Scottish Opera at the Coliseum that don’t.

On the other hand there is much that is better than in my imagination that I will have to redraw my frontiers of excellence - notably a superb pair of lovers.  With the Octavian of Sarah Connolly we do not get merely, the titillation of cross dressing, as is usual in a ‘Breeches’, part but a true hero, noble in bearing and aristocratic in manner.  In the opening scene, how she strides and struts and flings herself about in an excess of youthful masculinity. My first thoughts were ‘ ‘What a splendid Principal Boy’ and I was waiting for a traditional thigh-slap, but no, this is better than that – so that at the very end when he takes the willing Sophie in his arms one has no thought other than this as an expression of young heterosexual love. Having praised the ‘Innamorato’ let’s find equally glowing phrases for the ‘Innamorata’, the Sophie of Sarah Tynan.

It is love at first sight, when we see her as she bounces awkwardly onto the stage in a sack dress (1750‘s version) of dazzling white purity. (It’s Sophie, not Miss Tynan that’s awkward let me assure you!)  She is also naive, opinionated, wilful and sincere, in fact just what an intelligent 18 year old daughter of the wealthy parvenu, Herr Von Faninal, should be, and what a handful for her poor father; an excellent interpretation by Andrew Shore, who provided a wonderful evocation of 18th century theatre, his movements and poses bringing to life those engravings of Gerick and other actors of the time.

This brings me to the work of the movement director Andrew George whose work is exemplary.  There is not a move, a pose, an obeisance that is not redolent of the period and executed by the cast with faultless ease. As should be the case, it is hard to find a dividing line between his work and that of the overall director/designer David McVicar.  The piece is given the single set of a stage presentation in the mid years of the eighteenth century, an elegant rococo interior with typical arrangement of chandeliers, a row of candles as footlights, and concealed doors.  Grouping and moves are technically perfect and often inspired; the superb entrance of the Rosenkavalier and his attendants in shining silver armour,  bearing the silver rose; the two chairs facing each other, but a chasm apart where Octavian and Sophie learn to know and love each other; and the whole sequence of the Levee, with its hairdresser, milliner, animal seller, lawyers, and the Italian singer whom the Baron drowns out with his boorish behaviour, irritating us as much as the singer himself - an amusing comic performance from Alfie Boe (standing in for Dwayne Jones), as well as a most melodious voice. This sequence really tells you what these levees must have been like with their complex status levels and servile obsequiousness. I might note a problem with being so accurate in the recreation of the 1750’s and that is at no moment does the composer attempt to hark back to the period, but remains firmly in the 1900s (or looking back a few years to the heyday of the grand waltz).

Musically and vocally the standard is high but I thought that in the first act the orchestra was a touch too loud, resulting in us losing the lower notes and most of the words. The singing of the duets and trios is a magical as ever, with the Feldmarschallin of Janice Watson contributing much to them, and a lovely solo at the end of act one.  The experienced John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs is amusing, well played and well sung. 

The translation is good and seems to preserves much of the wit and skill of the original (My very limited German precludes me from being dogmatic about this) but there is a certain hardness about the German language missing in any translation which contrasts well with the lushness of the music. For example “no. no” is no substitute for “Nein, Nein”.


Dates:    May 22nd 6.30pm. May 28th 6.30pm. May 31st 5.30pm.
June 2nd.  6.30pm. June 5th 6.30pm. June 7th 5.30pm.

Venue:     The London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES

Box Office: 0871 145 0200   www.info@eno.org




Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved