COMPOSERS: R Strauss
WORKS: Der Rosenkavalier
PERFORMER: Claire Watson, Karl Ridderbusch, Brigitte Fassbaender, Lucia Popp, Benno Kusche, Annelie Waas, David Thaw, Margarete Bence, Albrecht Peter, Gerhard Unger; Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber
CATALOGUE NO: C 581 083 D (hybrid CD/SACD)
Der Rosenkavalier was one of the tiny handful of operas that Carlos Kleiber conducted: he performed it 82 times in Munich alone, usually with many of the same singers in the leading roles.
This performance from 1973 is notable for its extraordinary textual clarity, in this densest of scores, and its rhythmic vitality. It’s cut, too, which partly explains why the opera seems less lengthy than usual.
The vocal hero of the occasion is Brigitte Fassbaender as Octavian, her rich and creamy voice bringing her presence vividly before us. Lucia Popp is a classic Sophie, too, pure of voice but determined of purpose.
Karl Ridderbusch, as the loutish and lecherous Baron Ochs, sings gloriously but presents a one-dimensional portrait of a figure who should have dignity in his humiliation in Act III. And Claire Watson, as the Marschallin, has too many tremulous moments. She has the right ideas about the part, but lacks the means to convey them.
There are two DVD recordings of Kleiber conducting the opera, one with Gwyneth Jones as the Marschallin, one with Felicity Lott. Both are preferable, the first especially because it also has Fassbaender.
If you want a purely audio recording of an opera which does desperately need to be seen, you’re in trouble, because they all have serious shortcomings. I would go for the one under Kleiber’s father, Erich, who was equally a master of this complex score, and his Decca recording (now reissued on Naxos) has never been surpassed, even though the Marschallin of Maria Reining is a bit past her best. Michael Tanner