Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: EMI Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Der Rosenkavalier
WORKS: Der Rosenkavalier
PERFORMER: Nina Stemme, Vesselina Kasarova, Malin Hartelius, Alfred Muff; Zürich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst; dir. Sven-Eric Bechtolf (Zürich Opera, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: 544 2589
There must be an imaginative way of substituting the detailed scenario of Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s ‘comedy for music’ with something equally thoughtful. Unfortunately Sven-Eric Bechtholf’s Zürich production hasn’t found it. The Marschallin’s Viennese rococo palace – so richly fleshed out in John Schlesinger’s classic Covent Garden show on Warner – is replaced here by a clinical Swiss room with wintry trees inside as well as out which bizarrely doubles as the louche ‘inn’ of Act III. Its chief occupant, apparently a survivor of Strauss’s previous opera Elektra, tries to behave but keeps forgetting the rules. All credit to the Isolde of the moment, Nina Stemme, for focusing her rich, dark soprano to salvage some dignity in the characterisation Bechtolf demands; it’s too often eclipsed by fits of anger and swoons (the first in front of the Italian tenor – for which read clockwork Chinaman – at her levee).

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What humour and wit remain are decidedly bizarre. Octavian presents his rose to a Sophie hiding behind a door in Faninal’s kitchen, in a Second Act full of mincing and pastry-rolling. Vesselina Kasarova finds the role of the cavalier rather high-lying, but responds with delightful plasticity of expression, and Malin Hartelius as the bride-to-be, a little flat at times, floats the high lines. The climactic trio sounds good and is interestingly staged, like all the opera’s intentionally serious moments. Alfred Muff’s Baron Ochs, though, simply isn’t funny, and Franz Welser-Möst’s fluent, beautifully textured conducting is as cool and unsensuous as the production. The camerawork is undistinguished, too, though Marianner Glittenberg’s silks and embroideries offer visual pleasure. Excellent English subtitles provide some compensation for lack of documentation or extras. David Nice