Opera Reviews
20 October 2021
Untitled Document

A fun filled Rosenkavalier

by Michael Sinclair
Strauss, R: Der Rosenkavalier
Royal Swedish Opera
29 May 2018

Vienna, 1740’s. Well, not in Christof Loy’s production of Der Rosenkavalier for the Royal Swedish Opera first presented in 2015 and revived here for the first time.

You wouldn’t expect Loy to stick to the script, but perhaps the most intriguing aspect of his staging (in conjunction with set designer, Dirk Becker and costume designer, Barbara Drosihn) is the ambiguity that pervades the production. Most of the action seems to take place in the 1960s, not an era known for gilded opulence (the flock wallpaper and brightly patterned fabrics for the costumes attest to that), but this is mixed with modern costumes for the waitstaff and, most importantly, a traditional period setting and costumes for the Presentation of the Rose. Location-wise there are again mixed messages: a UK Sun newspaper appears during the Marschallin’s levée in Act I and the three noble orphans appear to have come straight from St Trinians, but otherwise there is no overriding suggestion that the setting is in England as opposed to Vienna.

All of this adds up to one thing: an extremely witty performance of what is, after all, a comic opera. Loy’s sure-handed direction ensures that the stage is filled with zany action that keeps the eye entertained throughout. If there is a criticism it is that occasionally he over-directs the performers: waitstaff are constantly coming and going for no obvious reason (and distracting from the main action onstage) and Sara Olsson’s prissy Marianne Leitmetzerin is a little hyperactive as she oversees Sophie and Octavian in Act II. But when it matters, such as in the levée scene with its motley crowd of hangers-on, or the inn scene which has been spectacularly reinvented as a seedy brothel with pimps, prostitutes and rent boys, the result is an energetic rollercoaster that effectively plays for laughs.

On the musical side there is much to enjoy. Malin Byström is an experienced Marschallin who brings copious quantities of elegance and poise to the role, combining this with a vocal performance that catches both the spontaneity and heartbreak of the character. She launces the famous trio in Act III with heartfelt poignancy sending a shiver down the spine, as this music should.

The company has made an interesting choice for Octavian by casting male mezzo-soprano Adrian Angelico in the role. Born a woman, but now identifying as a man, the Norwegian singer is well-nigh perfect as the cross-dressing, adolescent count who falls in love first with the Marschallin, then with Faninal’s daughter, Sophie. Angelico’s rich mezzo voice imbues the character with passion and is strongly projected, only occasionally being swamped by Strauss’ rich orchestration.

If Angelico’s Octavian is the perfect adolescent, Elin Rombo’s Sophie now seems a tad too mature for the teenage girl, looking more comparable in age to the Marschallin. Nevertheless, she looks ravishing and sings gloriously. As the lecherous Baron Ochs Bjarni Thor Kristinsson (presumably standing in for Wilhelm Schwinghammer, though no announcement was made) is slightly lightweight in voice, particularly at the bottom of the range, though there is plenty of sleaze to compensate for this.

The smaller roles are all cast from strength with Aled Hall’s and Marie-Louise Granström’s obsequious Valzacchi and Annina standing out.

In the pit Alan Gilbert leads the orchestra in a ravishing account of Strauss’ sublime score. The chorus throws  themselves into Loy’s interpretation, with particular praise for the men for donning miniskirts, sparkly tops and wigs (mimicking Octavian) in the Act III mayhem.

All in all a most enjoyable Rosenkavalier.

Text © Michael Sinclair
Photo © Sara Strandlund
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