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Richard Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier / Pizzi, Komlosi
Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose) is the most important opera by Richard Strauss, as well as one of his most enduring and lighthearted. Matched with Strauss's glorious music is Hugo Von Hofmannsthal's libretto, considered a literary masterpiece because of his great ability to create characters in amazing detail. This sublime comedy, which debuted in Dresden in 1911, features the agony and ecstacy of young love, amorous scheming and hilarious sexual confusion in a bygone Vienna. This excellent production features one of the world's greatest opera directors, Pier Luigi Pizzi, and a German cast that includes the renowned Ildiko Komlosi in the title role. Features the Orchestra of the Massimo Theatre, Palermo. 150 minutes.
Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, one of the greatest and most popular operas of the 20th century, has been recorded several times, in audio and video formats, with unusual skill and devotion. This production is the first available in DVD. It faces formidable competition from CD and VHS recordings, but it has its own personality and, taken on its own terms, it is a delight--well cast, carefully worked out in the smallest details of music and staging, and technically far ahead of its most notable competitors. The only serious problem is with the orchestra--quite competent after a minute or two warming up at the beginning, but simply not as sumptuous or idiomatic as the Vienna Philharmonic.
Der Rosenkavalier's plot is a complex blend of farce and serious drama. Young love, social pretension, greed, and unselfishness are part of its subtly mingled motivations. It requires a carefully integrated interpretation and receives one in this production, thanks to excellent conducting and stage direction. Elizabeth Whitehouse gives a touching characterization of the Marschallin, an aging grande dame who comes to terms with the loss of her youth and her young lover, Octavian (the velvet-voiced Ildiko Komlosi). Daniel Lewis Williams has just the right level of boorish pomposity as the aptly named Baron Ochs (Ox in German).
Notable competitors include a 1931 recording of about half the score with many members of the original cast and a 1956 recording, conducted by Herbert von Karajan with a much-admired performance by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin. The Schwarzkopf-Karajan combination (in a later performance) can be seen in a technically flawed but classic VHS edition. I would not discard those Rosenkavaliers, but this one takes an honorable place on the shelf beside them. --Joe McLellan
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I'm trying very hard to understand the praise for Octavian's (Komlosi) voice -- she sounds shrill to me. (She's the first shrill mezzo in my seven decade opera experience.) Furthermore, her Octavian is a stick. My experience with Octavians goes back to the mesmerizing Yvonne Minton, somewhere in the 1960s at Chicago's Lyric Opera, and continues to the amazing Garanca in the MET's 2016 production.
Ochs is underplayed, Faninal overplayed. So many great performers of Ochs (Edelmann, Moll, Haugeland) and decent Faninals -- are they unknown to Pizzi and his performers?
The biggest shock of all, however, on this DVD is probably the moments when the orchestra sounds as if the story takes place in Italy somewhere, not Vienna.
I have no idea how this mistake wound up in my possession. I was reviewing all my Rosenkavalier recordings and pulled this one from behind the row in my bookcase. I'll either loan it out as an example of how not to produce Rosenkavalier or I'll toss it. Even Rancatore (Sophie) can't convince me to play it again.
The stage is graced by an almost perfect cast. Gwyneth Jones's beauty, handsome stage presence and fine acting make her a most convincing Marschallin on the stage. She is here in full control of her voice and she also invests the text with meaning and manages to win over the sympathy of the viewer without indulging in excessive sentimentality. Lucia Popp may look a tad mature for her part but, vocally, she's a Sophie to die for. Her resilient voice and pure (and still youthful) timbre is perfect for the role and the secure high register is revealed at its full glory. Brigitte Fassbaenader, a strong-voiced and tireless Octavian, is also a piece of fine casting, although, on the stage, she sometimes tries a bit too hard to convey the boyish and earnest quality of the character resulting in some rather exaggerated gestures. Manfred Jungwirth may not be the most vocally ingratiating of Baron Ochs but his excellent acting offers adequate compensation. The smaller roles are also cast from strength and special mention must be made to the excellent Faninal of Benno Kusche.
Given that the image and sound qualities are also good, one can hardly dream of a better recorded performance of Strauss's most widely loved opera. Don't miss it!
This performance is intriguing since Der Rosenkavalier is rarely performed in Italy. The singing in this performance far exceeds the quality of the dramatic experience, because of director Pizzi's artistic priorities. There is a sense of immediacy to the singers' voices, bolstered by the microphones and the very bright recording. Try 7:25 minutes to appreciate how close the singers sound.
The American bass Daniel Lewis Williams may be the greatest Baron today. His voice mesmerizes you from the second he enters the stage. In 22:10 he can be heard proceeding securely from a shrill and baritone-like high register down to an abyss-deep bass register (and again in 31:56, in 47:03 and in 2:10:40).
The late-blooming new Australian soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse is an appropriately aristocratic Marescialla. She started a belated career in Darmstadt and Nuremberg, emerging as a highly accomplished professional with a secure voice. Her phrasing is very musical, full of moving sweetness and gloomy dramatic accents. She gives the character a mysterious element, and yes, she does leave her personal mark on the role to the extent that she too is eligible for a spot in the Pantheon of great Marschallins.
Désirée Rançatore was only 21 years old in 1998. At an age when other singers barely start to discover their abilities her voice seems to have hatched fully formed. The haunting beauty of her natural voice is matched by her beguiling personality. She is so irresistible that Octavian's reaction to her innocent charm ("my God, how lovely and good she is, she completely bewilders me") is one shared by the viewer - it IS impossible not to fall in love with her. Sophie, like Cio-cio-san is only 15 when she meets Octavian (who is 17 and 2 months). Rarely does the innocent-adolescent-Romeo-and-Juliet immediate total crush at first sight aspect of their encounter come across so vividly. I can't think of a more idiomatic Sophie. It's almost as if the role was written for her. Just listen to her floating effortlessly high notes in 1:22:20 ("like roses of heaven, not of earth", and again in 1:23:33) and understand what romantic love is all about.
Ildikó Komlósi is not on the same level, but she is a very good Octavian with a pleasant voice, very convincing in the androgynous role of the lad disguised as a maid, and able to properly express by her timbre and her acting the adolescent freshness of Octavian's sudden crush on Sophie, without being ridiculous.
It seems these days conductors defer to the superstar-director. The conductor matches Pizzi's extreme lyricism (or is it the Karajan influence?) to the point that it makes you long for Solti's robust tempi.
This is the 3rd DVD where I need to report that the picture quality is "the best so far on any opera DVD" - it just keeps getting better and better, so much so that having been spoiled by this new crop of DVD's from Naples and Palermo, the older La Scala and Met DVD's look like obsolete technology.
Director-designer Pier Luigi Pizzi's Rococò sets and incredibly rich costumes are reserved yet gorgeous, thanks to their neoclassical restraint and the stately grandeur of their design (the Marschallin's night gown is UGLY, though). The stage has a light, almost airy feeling, with no loss of splendor. He uses flowing, cream-colored curtains to frame the beginning and end of each scene. Some scenes show his genius where a perfect visual harmony is achieved with a synergy of action, sets, lights, singing and orchestra playing that really satiates all senses and soul. From what I hear the DVD does not fully capture all the wonders of his inventions, like the effect of the an entirely white and gold set bathed in pure azure light in Act II.
Unfortunately IMO he is more of a set designer than a dramatic director. The farcical light element hinges around the Baron, but he does a bad job of directing him. The Baron stands like a putz when he should be chasing Mariandel. This Baron is not the "filthy peasant, a boor" who can barely restraint himself from humping the maid. He is serious, well mannered, dressed in black and it seems nothing can distract him from zeroing on his target - the fat dowry. As a result the comic focus shifts to Faninal, a hilariously pompous David Pittman-Jennings (and what a gorgeous azzurro costume!). Does Pizzi try to direct the Baron as an ominous shady character? He is after all a self confessed zodiacal serial rapist. This could be a legitimate approach but for act III - why would such a man bother to be sidetracked from his mission by a tête-à- tête with a chambermaid? He doesn't come across as really interested in her. Sure enough, the beauty of the sets aside, the drama and particularly the farce collapses in act III. Pizzi is guided by a sublime sense of beauty even at the expense of the drama. The action on stage in act III is clumsy and poorly coordinated instead of flowing forward in mirth (e.g. the Baron's retreat is static and not chaotic enough 2:55:00 ). Verdi wrote to Ricordi in 1875: "At one time it was necessary to endure the tyranny of the Prima Donnas; now it will be necessary also to endure that of the conductors. Is this Art?" An update on this complaint should include the current reign of terror of the directors/set designers.