Der Rosenkavalier review – glittering 50s update cleverly separates love and lust

Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate, Stokenchurch
Bruno Ravella’s production has a glamorous staging that allows Miah Persson’s understated refinement to register

“Time is a strange thing,” the Marschallin tells us in Der Rosenkavalier. Richard Strauss’s bittersweet comedy of manners examines the way time irrevocably changes lives, and the score charts its passing by gliding anachronistically between periods, evoking 18th-century Vienna (where the opera is set), the 19th-century city of the Viennese waltz, and the dissonant, modernist world of the period (1909-10) in which it was written.

Bruno Ravella’s new Garsington Opera production adds another period into the mix by relocating it to the 1950s, where Miah Persson’s glamorous Marschallin dons a Dior-ish new look suit in Act one, then arrives in a stunning couture ball gown in Act three to resolve the escalating emotional tangle between Hanna Hipp’s gauche Octavian, Madison Leonard’s wilful, spirited Sophie and Derrick Ballard’s Ochs.

Marvellously designed by Gary McCann, it’s a superbly detailed, if occasionally flawed piece of theatre, notably strong on subtle gradations of feeling and the complex relationship between love and sex, so both the Marschallin’s deepening awareness of the encroachment of age and the transience of desire, and the growing attraction between Sophie and Octavian are beautifully done. The updating, however, sometimes blurs Strauss’s distinctions between aristocratic decline, an emerging middle class, and an urban proletariat on the make: Richard Burkhard’s nouveau riche Faninal reeks of monied ostentation, though Annina (Kitty Whately) and Valzacchi (Colin Judson) look just a bit too respectable.

Derrick Ballard as Ochs in Bruno Ravella’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier.
Derrick Ballard as Ochs in Bruno Ravella’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier. Photograph: Johan Persson

Ravella’s symbolism can also, on occasion, be a bit heavy handed. In place of the Marschallin’s page, a rococo cupid wryly observes the unfolding drama. And roses themselves have become ubiquitous: we see them in the plaster curlicues that adorn the ceiling of Marschallin’s bedroom; the Italian Tenor (Oliver Johnston) rather incongruously carries bunches of them in a knapsack; and a flower seller repeatedly proffers them during the Act three tryst between Ochs and the disguised Octavian.

Persson is a most wonderful Marschallin, sounding and looking lovely, delivering both text and line with understated refinement, so that every word and emotional shift really register. Leonard, in another excellent performance, makes an exquisite Sophie, though Hipp took a while to settle on opening night – there were some uncharacteristic moments of suspect intonation near the start. Ballard’s Ochs, less empathetic than many, is a boorish coward, who screams murder before Octavian has even touched him, though his tone is warm and the role lies comfortably for him. In order to enable the Philharmonia to observe social distancing in the pit, a reduced orchestration by Eberhard Kloke is used. You miss some of the sensuality of Strauss’s original, but it’s handsomely conducted by Jordan de Souza and quite superbly played.

Der Rosenkavalier plays in rep at Garsington Opera until 3 July.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Der Rosenkavalier – review

What makes this revival so special is David McVicar's stagecraft and a cast that is dramatically and vocally excellent, writes George Hall

George Hall

02, Feb, 2012 @5:28 PM

Article image
Der Rosenkavalier review – big guns and young lovers overcome stage obstacles
Renée Fleming leads a fine cast including Alice Coote, Sophie Bevan and Matthew Rose in a production whose romantic comedy plays out against a distractingly over-the-top backdrop

Andrew Clements

18, Dec, 2016 @2:30 PM

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier – review

Another release from Glydebourne's archive, this is from 1965 and takes a while to get going, after which it proves compelling, finds Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

09, Jun, 2011 @9:44 PM

Article image
Strauss's Rosenkavalier: a dance to the music of time
Strauss is not always associated with political savvy, but there’s more to his Rosenkavalier, with its glamorous setting, nostalgia and sexual farce, than meets the eye

Gavin Plumley

14, Dec, 2016 @11:38 AM

Article image
Tosca; Der Rosenkavalier; Vixen – review
Grange Park Opera settles into its new home with a stirring Tosca, and fine acting lifts WNO’s Der Rosenkavalier

Fiona Maddocks

11, Jun, 2017 @6:59 AM

Article image
LSO/Mark Elder review – a matchless Rosenkavalier
Soloists Sarah Connolly, Anne Schwanewilms and Lucy Crowe brought sensitivity and poise to Strauss's opera, and the LSO gave full value to the score's heady harmonic surges and misty-eyed nostalgia, writes George Hall

George Hall

09, May, 2014 @5:35 PM

Article image
Madama Butterfly/Der Rosenkavalier review – Glyndebourne openers perplex, provoke and charm
Annilese Miskimmon’s stripped-back Puccini update and an admirable but uneven Strauss revival opened this year’s summer festival

Tim Ashley

21, May, 2018 @11:36 AM

Article image
The week in classical: Dido’s Ghost; Der Rosenkavalier; Philharmonia/ Salonen – review
Errollyn Wallen had a bold new take on Dido and Aeneas, while the Philharmonia sparkled with a staging of Strauss’s opera and bid farewell to Esa-Pekka Salonen

Fiona Maddocks

12, Jun, 2021 @11:23 AM

Article image
Semele review – Handel's celestial opera remade as a Technicolor romcom
Annilese Miskimmon’s beautifully sung but sardonic production lends the saga of the gods some of the vividness and surreality of early 60s Hollywood

Tim Ashley

02, Jun, 2017 @11:08 AM

Article image
Orfeo review – descent to the underworld takes you to heaven
John Caird delivers a triumphant fusion of staging, choreography and performance – with Ed Lyon formidably assured in the title role

Martin Kettle

02, Jun, 2022 @12:51 PM