Times, 1 February 2009
Hugh Canning
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, Baden-Baden, 25 January 2009
Der Rosenkavalier
Last Sunday, a deluxe Der Rosenkavalier at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus, conducted by Germany’s Strauss maestro par excellence, Christian Thielemann, with his Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, only emphasised the gulf between an opera composer of supreme accomplishment and one who might conceivably have become one, but didn’t. Rosenkavalier is Strauss at his most garrulous and nostalgic — he pays homage to Mozart and to his unrelated namesake Johann — but his lengthy score seems pithy compared with Korngold’s note-spinning, even at Thielemann’s sometimes languid tempi.

The cast was a starry treat: headed by the American diva du jour, Renée Fleming, looking gorgeous and sounding peachy, with Sophie Koch (Octavian), the divine Diana Damrau (Sophie) soaring ecstatically to the stratosphere, and Franz Hawlata (still youthful, and not too boorish as Ochs) as her co-stars. Even the smaller parts were extravagantly cast: Franz Grundheber (Faninal), Jane Henschel (Annina) and the German tenor of the moment, Jonas Kaufmann, stepping in as a late replacement to sing the Puccini pastiche aria at the Marschallin’s levée. The reason for this largesse is a Unitel film that Decca will issue on DVD, preserving Herbert Wernicke’s once scandalous but now traditional-looking Salzburg staging of 1995. With its chic contemporary ballroom wear and hall-of-mirrors trompe-l’oeil scene changes, it’s a heartless Rosenkavalier, but the singers should make the DVD worth waiting for.

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