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Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (Der Rosenkavalier: Salzburger Festspiele 2004) [DVD]  [NTSC] 
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Recorded at the Saltzburger Festspiele in 2004, Semyon Bychkov conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Robert Carsen's production of Strauss's comic opera, with performances by Adrianne Pieczonka, Franz Hawlata, Angelika Kirchschlager and Franz Grundheber.
This Salzburg production is worth considering as an alternative new look at an old favourite. --Gramophone,Sept 2010
Robert Carsen's production translates the 18th-century setting to the brink of WW1,but it's a thoughtful presentation,finely sung by a distinguished cast and wonderfully conducted by Bychkov. Performance ***** Picture and Sound ***** --BBC Music Magazine,Oct 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
The quality of music and sound is excellent.
The casting seems remarkably good, Piecczonka is a mature and credible Marschallin, Kirschschlager makes a good young chap, and a good young chap disguised as a girl. Hawlata a delightfully ignorant and unfeeling Baron, except for the odd duelling injury. Persson is as delightful as Sophie as she is as Susanah and Fiordiligi in other productions. I think a special mention also for Beczala, wonderful sound.
The whole cast in fact seem to be tailored to their parts.
The sets are interesting without being intrusive, with happenings in side rooms, this works quite well. Costumes are appropriate for the chosen period, 1890s perhaps.
I have a version with Fleming as Marschalin, but this makes it seem pretty boring in comparison.
Oh, and I must say that the act three trio of the three leading ladies would be the last sound that I would like to hear in my time on earth, but not quite yet!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Salzburg Festival opera productions in the last few years have been infected with some of the worst of the Regietheater mystique and one comes to this DVD of a live performance at the 2004 production with some trepidation. But any concerns about how this opera could be Eurotrashed by the stage director are mostly set aside in the first two acts which, although updated to pre-World War I Vienna, have little to shock or unsettle the traditional opera fan. In the third act, though, we encounter some things that will upset some, amuse others. Instead of being set in the libretto's called-for 'inn', the act occurs in a brothel and there is a fair amount of frontal nudity and lascivious behavior to behold, although in fairness it is played for laughs and that mostly comes off. It certainly doesn't strike one as particularly erotic. However, the final scene is grievously miscalculated. After the Marschallin's noble gesture in which she urges Octavian leave her, follow his heart and go to Sophie, in the scene that includes the justly admired Trio, Octavian and Sophie follow with their Schubertian Duet by making out rather graphically on a huge bed (which, interestingly, recalls the bed in the Marschallin's boudoir in Act I) so that when the Marschallin and Sophie's father return (between the two verses of the duet) they walk past the grappling couple with nary a comment except the libretto's 'young people are like that' (Faninal) and 'ja, ja' (the Marschallin). Give me a break. Even in the decadence of pre-war Vienna it wouldn't have occurred that way. Robert Carsen's stage direction up to that point had generally been effective, but one's reaction to this is astonishment, not gentle bemusement as librettist Hoffmannsthal surely intended. One also hoped that Carsen, unlike earlier stage directors, could have come up with a reasonable explanation for how the Marschallin came to make her entrance at the low-down inn (or, in this case, brothel). But no explanation is indicated. Ah, well.
Musically, this is a good 'Rosenkavalier.' Semyon Bychkov leads an energetic, skillful performance. The Vienna Philharmonic is absolutely world-class in this complex score -- which surely they have played more than any other opera orchestra in the world. Only rarely are the singers' voices covered by the orchestra. Bychkov catches the echt-Viennese waltz rhythms perfectly in that string of waltzes that surely account for much of this opera's popularity.
The three leading female singers are excellent and well-matched. Adrianne Pieczonka is a noble yet intense Feldmarschallin. Her Act I monolog is moving, and beautifully sung. Angelika Kirchschlager's Octavian is suitably impetuous and passionate. She is particularly effective in the Act II presentation of the rose scene. And in her Mariandel impersonation, she gulls the Baron with comic style. Miah Persson, a beautiful woman (who looks a lot like Renée Fleming), manages the treacherous tessitura of the part of Sophie with grace and delicacy, yet she is not a chocolate box figure; she has spunk and fire. In both the Presentation of the Rose and the final Trio and Duet her high notes are pure and ethereally beautiful.
Franz Hawlata's Baron is only moderately good. His bass voice is not sonorous enough for the part, especially in its lower reaches. But he acts the part without resorting to hammy stereotypes and he even imparts some humanity to the role. Franz Grundheber makes the most of his Faninal but the voice sounds a bit worn at times. The minor roles are reasonably well-taken, and one must make special mention of the Police Commissar, sung by Florian Boesch. The cameo appearance of the Italian Singer, in the levee scene, is sung by tenor Piotr Beczala with both good voice and style and more than a touch of humor.
Sets are excellent, stage movement is relatively minimal. Particularly impressive is the huge banquet table in Act II and Carsen's choreography of the hordes of servants who attend the Faninal establishment.
There are numerous Rosenkavaliers on DVD. For me the best of the lot is still the Carlos Kleiber/Vienna/Lott/Bonney/Von Otter DVD from 1994.
We live in an era of opera production in which we often seem to be presented with two stark choices. There are the would-be innovations of Regietheater, in which the director has imposed a personal view on a beloved opera, one perhaps telling us more about him (or her) than what the composer and librettist intended. In the best cases, these stagings can be fresh, thoughtful, and invigorating. In the worst, they border on send-up, with the work of superior creative minds trivialized for puerile shocks; a self-consciously modern or postmodern auteur working out his own psychological issues on the audience's time and dime, sometimes to the visible or documented embarrassment of the singers/actors. At the other extreme, there is the "traditional" approach. This can be ideal for a newcomer to a particular opera, and even the connoisseur can find the best such stagings beautiful and refreshing. In the worst cases of traditionalism, the stagings are simply limp. The director gives the impression of believing that anything resembling thought can have been done a century or more in advance of his arrival on the scene. He need only faithfully realize what is in the book, as if putting together a piece of office furniture with the supplied Allen wrench and screws. Opera buffs tend to be passionate to their own taste, and will try to make you feel that you too must line up behind one or the other extreme, as if this is Bleeding Kansas or Roe v. Wade. In fact, it need not be that stark. It *is* possible to achieve either excellence or failure with either approach. Most of us have no use or need for the shortcut of dogma, and are content to evaluate productions on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps we can conclude -- as I feel is the case with Robert Carsen's ROSENKAVALIER -- that an ambitious production contains elements that hit the target and others that miss, but it ultimately should be seen and considered.
Mr. Carsen has, of course, set ROSENKAVALIER in the period just prior to World War I, near the time of the work's composition and premiere. The update is not a bothersome one. I was struck most by how well Strauss and von Hofmannsthal's work survives the move, its themes no less resonant for the Vienna of the 1910s than for that of the 1740s: A beautiful woman's insecurity and doubt as she approaches middle age. Money-without-nobility and nobility-without-money seeking expedient alliances, often at the expense of happiness. The milieu's uneasy, combustible intermingling of sophistication and decadence. Even with Brian Large manning the cameras, this staging suffers on television: there is so much -- too much! -- to see. One would never guess from this staggering opulence (including dog and horse cameos of which Zeffirelli would approve) that Carsen is the same man who gave the Met its minimalist ONEGIN. His ROSENKAVALIER is positively overstuffed, and while it is difficult to see everything, it is impossible to look away. I have never seen the gargantuan space of the Grosses Festpielhaus more effectively filled. For Act One, we have a set with parallel chambers in which different business unfolds simultaneously. The final departure of Ochs in Act Three, amidst riotous clamor, is exceptionally well realized, despite a piece of stagecraft that will make a newcomer think the opera ends sooner than it does, and on an odd note.
Acts One and Two raise expectations that Act Three, sadly, cannot meet. The earlier acts are enterprising and bold. For once, the physical interplay between Octavian and the Marschallin at the beginning is genuinely sexy. The Italian Singer's appearance is adroitly handled -- a real "moment." Servant girls become a coterie of groupies, carefully getting into position, then watching and listening adoringly; the tenor gets a literal spotlight; and perhaps we are encouraged to pay closer attention than we usually do to the words. Baron Ochs throughout does less hip-thrusting, pawing and other grotesque business than usual, to the good. His overacting of injury after his "duel" with Octavian is really funny: attendants carry him to a dining room table, where he reclines for most of the rest of the act. At one point in his recovery, he props himself up in simulation of the classic analyst's-couch position, and a mute Sigmund Freud figure in white coat studiously takes notes on his pronouncements. However, the shenanigans of the first half of Act Three are both confused and confusing. I have no puritanical objection to the nudity or sexual explicitness (supernumeraries, not principals), but changing the specified "inn" to an outright brothel, presided over by a transvestite, and making "Mariandel" the sexual aggressor to a discomfited Ochs, has Carsen tripping over a masterful libretto. The moralizing of the Polizeikommissar in his conversation with Ochs, for example, seems nonsensical considering what is going on all around the men. The opera's closing moments (from the young-adult Mohammed's drunken walk-on to the end) don't entirely work, either, but to be fair, the editing seems to bungle Carsen's carefully prepared, controversial ending. Love it or hate it, it must have had a clarity and impact in the theater that it loses here.
The problem with writing about a provocative, complex staging is that there often is so much to say about the staging that comments on the musical contribution seem an afterthought, and more is deserved here. The history of the Vienna Philharmonic in this score requires no elaboration, and Semyon Bychkov elicits a muscular, full-blooded, highly charged reading, with intensely bold musical colors well matched to the literal ones on the stage. The conductor occupies an opposite pole from the elegance and refinement of Herbert von Karajan. Very early in the first scene, the two women are swamped by the orchestra, fighting to be audible (perhaps the plushness of the set design contributes?). Fortunately, this balance problem proves atypical.
Angelika Kirchschlager is an exemplary Octavian of her time. The role presents many tests, vocal and otherwise, and there is not one she fails to ace (other than passing for a teenager in closeup). She is well partnered by Miah Persson's Sophie: beautiful, spirited and suggesting greater sophistication and curiosity than most. Best of all is Franz Hawlata's Baron Ochs. The low notes are weak, yes, but so many Ochses are vocally parlous and/or getting by on shtick. This one is a real singer who shapes a great line and brings charm and magnetism to the character, despite the production's military-bully concept. I almost invariably feel the Baron overstays his welcome in all three acts (and that Strauss and von Hofmannsthal may have wanted this reaction), but I would not have wanted to lose a moment of this one. On top of everything else, Hawlata dances well. Adrianne Pieczonka's Marschallin is an impressive feat of vocalism, but there are more serious reservations about the Canadian soprano's total performance than there are about those of her colleagues. Perhaps it was Carsen who deprived the Marschallin of her usual aristocratic remove and regal bearing (for good or ill), but it must be Pieczonka who is deficient in playing irony and wistfulness. Her acting, compared to that of the others, is stiff, literally "posed." Much of the Marschallin's dramatic material is impossible to render less than moving if performed even competently, and Pieczonka serves it well musically. But in those remarkable reveries on time and aging that dominate the final third of Act One, such video Marschallins as Schwarzkopf, Fleming, Lott, and (most indelibly, on the first Kleiber DVD) Jones came closer to the heart of the character...and, consequently, to that of the viewer/listener.
Most worthy of mention in the smaller roles are Elena Batoukova's booming Annina; Franz Grundheber's vocally grayed but effectively characterized Faninal; and Piotr Beczala's Italian Singer. The latter does not entirely conquer Strauss's technically perilous Bellini gloss "Di rigori armato il seno," but some celebrated singers have come to grief here, especially live. Beczala earns a solid B+ in an aria that gets its share of "C/D" performances. More than usual, it seems a shame the character doesn't make it through that second verse.