Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier

ONP Bastille, Tuesday December 5 2006

Conductor:Philippe Jordan. Production, sets and costumes: Herbert Wernicke. Die Feldmarschallin: Solveig Kringelborn. Der Baron Ochs: Franz Hawlata. Octavian: Anke Vondung. Herr von Faninal: Olaf Bär. Sophie: Heidi Grant Murphy. Marianne Leitmetzerin: Michèle Lagrange.

It’s probably only my bad luck, but I’m beginning to think Rosenkavalier is like La Traviata: famous and popular but rarely a great experience in the theatre. The last time we had this Wernicke production in Paris it had a “dream cast”: Fleming, Bonney and Graham, and was so dull we left before act 3, unable to face all the unamusing rigmarole that has to be sat through before the arrival of the Feldmarschallin.

The same production is back in town, this time of course without Wernicke, and seems to be jinxed. Vesselina Kasarova dropped out before the first night and Anne Schwanewilms fell ill at the weekend. Heidi Grant Murphy is still standing, but as she’s inaudible at the Bastille anyway, it makes no odds. You can hardly expect a well-rehearsed show from people who fly in at the drop of a hat (or of a diva) and in any case this wasn’t one of Wernicke’s most original productions: his jokes look like everyone else’s in this work; the huge, swivelling mirrors, though still ingenious, swivel to reflect a hideously ugly Rococo interior of intricate panelling, gilding and chinoiserie; the Feldmarschallin, in a red Dirndl, looks more like a Salzburg waitress than a princess.

Even before Ms Schwanewilms dropped out one reviewer had described the voices as “Lilliputian”. Anke Vondung and Solveig Kringelborn deserve marks, of course, for accepting to stand in at the last minute, but with them the Opéra National has come a long way from Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica Von Stade. Hawlata is no Kurt Moll either.

A pity, all this, because the orchestra was on great form under Philippe Jordan, who conducted vigorously and fast but also with great care and control; clearly they were going to be the evening’s stars.

I will, I suppose, never see the last act of this production. This time, we didn’t even stay for the second. An early dinner and an early night. And next on our season schedule: La Traviata. Gulp

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