One Moment in Time: Der Rosenkavalier at Welsh National Opera

Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier

Feldmarschallin – Rebecca Evans
Baron Ochs – Brindley Sherratt
Octavian – Lucia Cervoni
Faninal – Adrian Clarke
Sophie – Louise Alder
Marianne Leitmetzerin – Angharad Morgan
Valzacchi – Peter Van Hulle
Annina – Madeleine Shaw
Sänger – Paul Charles Clarke
Ein Polizeikommissar – Matthew Hargreaves
Der Haushofmeister bei der Feldmarschallin – Adam Music
Der Haushofmeister bei Faninal – Gareth Dafydd Morris
Ein Notar – Alastair Moore
Ein Wirt – Michael Clifton-Thompson
Eine Modistin – Emma Mary Llewellyn
Ein Tierhändler – Michael Clifton-Thompson

Chorus of Welsh National Opera, Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Tomáš Hanus.
Stage direction – Olivia Fuchs.

Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales.  Sunday, June 4th, 2017.

As the curtain rose on this Rosenkavalier we were presented with two sets of dates – Wien 1949 initially projected on a screen at the front of the proscenium, followed by Wien 1911 a few moments later.  Of course, the period between 1911 and 1949 was one of the most turbulent in European history with two wars, the Shoah and in particular, the end of Austrian monarchy and the old order that Rosenkavalier presents to us.  The passage of time is inherent to this work – the most celebrated example of course being when the Marschallin talks about stopping all the clocks in the middle of the night – as well as the passage from the old regime to the new.  What Olivia Fuchs manages to achieve, in this co-production with the Theater Magdeburg, is something really quite special.  She offers us a meditation on how life is filled with fleeting moments that we wish would last forever, yet having the memory of those moments is what makes us who we are.

Photo: © Bill Cooper

In a way, we are living in a similar period – the certainties that we grew up with can no longer be taken for granted.  The world we knew is transforming in front of us in the most unexpected way – Trumpism, Brexit, the resurgence of hate crime in the UK.  In such a world, we cling to those happy moments, the memories of which help make the reality of life more bearable.  Here, Fuchs uses sand pouring down from the flies to represent the passage of time in the same way as an egg timer, used just at those moments where the characters want time to stand still.  As the evening progresses, we see piles of sand piling up at the back of the stage.  It sounds quite heavy-handed but I have to say the effect was magical – it really brought home the transitory experience the Marschallin was living through, how ultimately she had to set Octavian free to make him happy.  The effect was compounded by the figure of an older lady – the Marschallin in her âge d’or occasionally present on the stage, engaging with her younger self.  Again, it’s the kind of thing that can feel heavy-handed, that draws attention away from the principals, but here the effect was magical, nowhere more so than in the closing pages in a moment (no spoilers!) that left an uplifting smile on the face after the deeply moving trio.

Louise Alder & Lucia Cervoni. Photo: © Bill Cooper

This was very much a company performance – it might not have had the biggest ‘names’ but was much more satisfying than the London Royal Opera’s recent stab at the work.  Brindley Sherratt displayed some terrific comic timing as Ochs.  His was a boorish Ochs, one who made us laugh through his outrageousness but one who also made us believe, through his manhandling of Annina, why the others would plot against him in Act 3 – something I often find missing in other productions.  Vocally, he was somewhat frayed on top but the bottom was rich and resonant, descending to a full-bodied bottom D.  His wasn’t an echt Wienerisch Ochs, a few diphthongs were there, but he most definitely filled the stage with personality.  Madeleine Shaw was a somewhat more glamorous Annina than we often hear, sung with a beautiful line.  Peter van Hulle was nicely insinuating as Valzacchi, his peppery tenor full of character.  Adrian Clarke blustered efficiently as Faninal although there was a slight sense of a voice pushed beyond its limits.  Paul Charles Clarke’s singer was passionately sung, the line full of artistic aspirates.  Angharad Morgan was a youthful Leitmetzerin.

Lucia Cervoni & Rebecca Evans. Photo: © Bill Cooper

Lucia Cervoni is a new name to me.  Canadian and trained at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, she is an ensemble member in Magdeburg.  Her Octavian was indefatigable throughout a very long evening.  She was fearless in attack and her soprano-ish mezzo showed no hints of strain at the top.  Octavian’s relationship with the Marschallin was much less chaste and much more physical than we might be used to – rather than languorous embraces, our first glimpse of the couple was their experimentation with various positions of copulation, making it clear that Octavian was a very active young man.  Cervoni is also a convincingly boyish stage presence.  If her Mariandel sounded a little too educated (the diphthongs were a bit underdone), her ardent vocalism gave much pleasure.

Louise Alder. Photo: © Bill Cooper

Louise Alder gave us a Sophie who was very much a determined and intelligent young woman.  There was absolutely no doubt from the very first moment that she would give in to Ochs.  The voice has the lightness of a lemon soufflé with the hint of some juiciness at the core.  As yet, there is a limited range of tone colours but of course this will come with time.  Everything she did was sung off the text.

Rebecca Evans. Photo: © Bill Cooper

The Marschallin was a role debut for Rebecca Evans and she sang it with the authority of someone who had been singing it for years.  As with Alder, the role was fully sung off the text.  Her Marschallin was absolutely heart-breaking – right from her initial ‘Du bist mein bub’, she tore at the heartstrings in the way that the best Marschallins do.  What struck me most about her singing and stage presence was how genuine and heart-felt everything she did was.  The voice has the crystalline purity of a lightly sparkling water – she was unafraid to use a warm chest voice, give us some ravishingly supported pianissimi and also capped the trio with a radiant high B.  Yet she was also simultaneously regal and vulnerable – the strength with which she dismissed Octavian was combined with heartfelt vulnerability.  This was a very notable role debut indeed.

Brindley Sherratt & Lucia Cervoni. Photo: © Bill Cooper

The celebrated trio really worked its magic tonight thanks to a flowing tempo that was so much better than the endless dirge we are so often subjected to.  Tomáš Hanus, WNO’s music director, led his forces with irresistible swing.  His was a swifter reading than we often hear but other than a few saggy moments in Act 1, I thought it worked quite well.  Indeed he brought out some klezmer echoes in the clarinets that I hadn’t previously been aware of.  The strings had the occasional sour moment but were full-bodied and the brass, especially the horns, nicely raucous.

Lucia Cervoni & Rebecca Evans. Photo: © Bill Cooper

This was definitely a company achievement for WNO who gave us an evening that made us laugh, cry and reflect in equal measure.  In these uncertain days, this reflection on the passage of time and the need to live in those moments that give us happiness, sustain us and make us who are, is what makes life worth living.  Today we got to experience love and loss and yet even as the world changes what really matters will still be there.  This was a magical afternoon in the theatre – an intelligent production that illuminated the work combined with performances that felt that we had spent a few hours in the company of group of genuine characters.  The cumulative effect made it feel as if we were living it for the first time.

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