DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, Blu-ray (2008)

Documents a 2007 appearance in Japan by the Dresden State Opera - their first in more than a quarter century.

Published on December 10, 2008

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, Blu-ray (2008)
Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, Blu-ray (2008)
 
Featuring: The German State Opera of Dresden, conducted by Fabio Luisi
Starring: Anne Schwanewilms, Kurt Rydl, Anke Vondung, Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, Maki Mori
Studio: Medici Arts 2056914 [Distr. by Naxos]

Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080p HD

Audio: Uncompressed PCM 5.1 and PCM Stereo

Extras: none

Length: 212 minutes

Rating: ***1/2
 
This disc documents a 2007 appearance in Japan by the Dresden State Opera. The visit was the opera’s first in more than a quarter century, and created quite a stir in Japan, where three weeks of performances played to sold out audiences. The Dresden State Opera has a storied history with the works of Richard Strauss – nine of his fifteen operas were premiered there. The premiere of Der Rosenkavalier took place in 1911, and the production was such a sensation that the dress rehearsal garnered more newspaper attention than the Kaiser’s birthday! For this version, Strauss’ original has been updated in appearance from 1700’s Vienna to a more modern, post-WWII look, and a restored score from the opera’s premiere was used for the Japan concerts. Conductor (and Music Director of the Staatskapelle Dresden) Fabio Luisi declared in a press conference prior to the performances that this Rosenkavalier is the “most authentic ever.”

To summarize the action, the Marschallin (Princess Marie Therese) has just spent a night in the embraces of the dashing young Count Octavian while her husband is away. Her despair over their age difference is obvious, and she tempers his advances because she fears he’ll leave her for the next younger woman. They’re interrupted by an insistent visitor, her cousin the Baron Ochs, and Octavian disguises himself as the Marschallin’s chambermaid, Mariandel. The Baron is quite taken with Mariandel, and makes several advances towards her. The Baron reveals the true reason of his visit; he wants the Marschallin to recommend someone to present a silver rose to his bride-to-be, Sophie, and the Marschallin suggests Count Octavian. At the rose ceremony, Octavian and Sophie are quite taken with each other, to the Baron’s obvious consternation. The Baron and Octavian fight, and the Baron is wounded, but he regains his composure when he discovers that a meeting with Mariandel has been arranged. Octavian has the Baron exposed, to his great embarrassment, and then reveals himself to everyone. He’s left alone with the two women he loves, and the older Marschallin demurs to the younger Sophie, and the opera ends as Octavian and Sophie profess their love.

This was my first experience with Der Rosenkavalier, so I can’t really make any comparative judgements in terms of how this performance stacks up against the competition. However, the principals were all superb; Anne Schwanewilms was magnificent as the Marschallin, and apparently has performed the role to acclaim in numerous productions throughout Europe. I can attest that her singing here was nothing short of glorious. And Anke Vondung was also excellent as Octavian, although – and this is strictly based on my own ignorance – is it common (or true to Strauss’ wishes) to cast a soprano in the part of Octavian? Regardless, she carried the role off quite well, but she was so very feminine – it just seemed awkward in the scenes between Octavian and the Marschallin and Sophie. I just couldn’t suspend disbelief – Octavian was a woman, plain and simple, and it would have seemed more comically effective to cast a man in the role, especially in the scenes between Octavian and the Baron, etc.

Technically, this disc was really mostly superb; the image quality, with rare exception was clear and crisp, though there were a few scenes where the lighting overpowered and washed things out a bit. And the uncompressed PCM 5.1 was also excellent, allowing Strauss’ magnificent score – which contains some of his most beautiful orchestral writing, especially the many waltzes – to come through with the requisite bravura. Unfortunately, there are no extras – par for the course for opera discs that are generally quite memory intensive – but for a sensational event such as this one, at the very least some documentary footage would have been nice. Still, highly recommended.

 - Tom Gibbs




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