Ah Rosenkavalier, the most delicious torte of the lot! The usual upturned noses in the circuit will have scoffed at the idea of having it performed in English. But they shouldn’t have worried too much, this was an evening of pure decadence and pleasure.
McVicar’s set all cream walls, decorative pipped on plaster work, painted ceilings, mirrored screens and swathes of gold lamé fabric and parquet flooring. The detailing was rich enough (despite a few complaints about the use of the same set for all three locations) and the direction was fluid with attention to the action and the glorious music. After the dud Don Giovanni at Covent Garden this was a moment of musical catharsis. Add to that a cast that summed up some of the greatest British singing talent of the last 30 years and you get an idea how fantastic it was. Not bad for what is meant to be London’s second opera house that apparently can’t afford big stars.
Amanda Roocroft’s voice may have lost some of its sheen, but her stage presence is the very essence of old-fashioned glamour. Her Marschallin is charismatic and sang with so much heart, its instantly winning. Her fragility and lack of comprehension of the vanishing world she inhabits is brought out by the staging, her boudoir lavish in small details but overall it seems in need of a fresh lick of paint. Her cavorting in bed with Octavian is fun and warm, her refuge from the pretentious Viennese high society. The role fits her like a glove. Her knowing glances after she lets Octavian go and straight into the arms of Sophie was beautifully acted, as the woman who gives in to young love with an air of a lifetime’s experience.
John Tomlinson is one of the greatest names of British operatic singing. His horny Baron Ochs was fun-filled and showing off his apparent lack of sophistication. His red cheeks with the exaggerated make up added another goofy touch. His energy and enthusiasm never waned and his particularly lecherous approach to the young Sophie on the wedding day was perfectly judged, slimy in its upper class snobbery but yet pathetic in his disregard for her feelings. Also the way he addressed the Marschallin in the first act was the look of a man who knew his place despite his bone headed arrogance.
Sophie Bevan was a deeply elegant Sophie who waded through her high notes like a fish in water. Her charm and beauty propelled her stage persona. Her falling in love with Octavian during the presentation of the rose was perfection. The wide eyed expression she sported as Connolly showed up in her splendid gleaming suit of armour was that of a woman falling in love for the first time, blinded by the magnificent sight. Awkward and overwhelmed she grew in confidence while trying to see if Octavian was feeling the same way. After her splendid turn in Castor and Pollux last winter she proved herself to be a bona fide star soprano in the making.
Sarah Connolly in her latest and maybe one of her last assumptions of the role of Octavian (she’s moving slowly into different repertoire leaving trouser roles behind) was a joy to watch and to listen to. Her acting from young louche young aristocrat to a cross dressing country maid was every bit as entertaining as it was sublime. She was radiant and in very good voice. She was the glue that held this show together. Her presentation of the rose was poised and a perfect foil for the youthful blonde charms of Sophie Bevan. A moment so perfect that the world seems to stop for a millisecond and observe the beauty. One of those performances that look effortless but yet are truly intelligent. The journey from the Marschallin’s bed chamber to the final trio was the journey to maturity through the course of true love and it’s many (sometimes hilarious) obstacles.
The production was verging on the unapologetically traditional. It’s the shock of the traditional, you may say. Thankfully an abundance of physical comedy touches added whimsy. Also the fun translation and crisp enunciation by the cast made a good ambassador for opera in English. A particular joy was in the final act when Connolly in the guise of the maid Mariandel sounded like a Victorian street urchin, all mangled consonants and flowery slang. The orchestral playing under Edward Gardner was truly spectacular, with focus and softness at perfect balance. After all, this neoclassicising confection has always had a hint of irony under its expensive veneer. Gardner brought out the incidental humour, cheekiness and all the bitter-sweet harmonies that Strauss endowed this most self-consciously rich score of his operatic career. We left ENO with a sense of deep satisfaction and were glad to be surrounded by a much more attentive audience than in most London venues. That kept silent throughout and generously applauded in the end. I only wish I had seen it once more.