Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Happy birthday, Quinquin
Herrgott in Himmel, I nearly forgot that my favourite opera of all time and certainly the one I know best from head to toe, Strauss and Hofmannsthal's 'comedy for music' Der Rosenkavalier, is a hundred years old today; it took Gavin Plumley's homage - albeit with a clip of perhaps my least favourite Marschallin after Schwarzkopf, the over-indulgent Renee - on his Entartete Musik blog to remind me. Silhouette of Strauss and Hofmannsthal above by Bithorn, from the time it was shown in the Strauhof Museum Zurich's excellent exhibition 'Das Libretto'.
This is not, as they sing in the opera, quite what we'd hoped: I'd thought an annotated Rosenkav might make an intelligent coffee-table book for 2011, but there was much dragging of heels from a certain quarter, and then it was too late. Nor is there any chance for the seasonal warming of winter cockles this year, at least in the UK (what were you thinking of, Covent Garden and Mr. Pappano?)
Still, it's a time for Marschyesque reflection: almost too many great performances on stage and screen to recall. I can't quite choose an overall favourite on disc, though I guess the palm would have to go to the classic Erich Kleiber version.
I have a special affection for the Philips set, where the score is conducted like chamber music by Edo de Waart and Flicka shines as Octavian, and for the super-sumptuous if super-slow Bernstein offering. On DVD, there's no Marschallin more gorgeous and intuitively wonderful than Kiri's, though Gwyneth runs her close in the old Bavarian State Opera film: silence, you text-scoffers, and tell me in the following snippets if our often indolent Kiwi is slapdash or lacklustre with the meaning. Then along came Anne Schwanewilms's angry-beautiful redhead, and we all fell in love, I think, with that performance in an otherwise less than top-notch Dresden-in-Japan production. Sadly it's not snippeted decently on YouTube.
Best Octavians? For me, Fassbaender and Troyanos on DVD; on stage, a young Garanca in Vienna, terrific against Martina Serafin's gorgeous Marschallin - another redhead - though the creaking rep production left everyone to their own devices (lovely lady FLott said that the first time she met one of her Octavians at the Staatsoper was when she woke up in bed beside him/her). And the rest are usually good, with few matching the visual and vocal ideal of a young Sophie so well as Barbara Bonney, who seems to have stayed the girlish course for longest. I never thought Kurt Moll would make such a funny Ochs, but he does in the Met DVD, though for sheer classy delivery, dare I once again mention my good friend Peter Rose?
So what do we have that's worth seeing on YouTube (remember, to get the full picture on each of the below, you'll need to click on the moving image)? Kiri with Solti when the Schlesinger Covent Garden production was still fresh, ravishing and, yes, thoughtful in the Act 1 soliloquy:
Then let's switch to Gwyneth and Fassbaender in that classic Munich production, superlatively well conductor by Kleiber junior:
and back to Kiri, this time in a tired old Met staging which has just been issued on CD, and the fustian doesn't matter since the four leads find such meaning in interacting with each other. And though Levine has been quite a grand conductor of the score, his lavishness never holds up the proceedings like Thielemann's. The Sophie is Judith Blegen, no ingenue but still vocally very fine. Shame the whole thing stops at the end of the trio.
So raise a glass of old Tokay if you would to a complex masterpiece that's kept all the moaners on the run for a century now and retained its central place in a warhorse repertoire against the odds.
29/1 Very much on a related note, and as I mentioned in the reply to Jon below, the most beautiful Mozart/Strauss voice ever, Dame Margaret Price, died yesterday at the age of 69. I've written a brief tribute on The Arts Desk, and may add more here over the next few days. As always with these losses, such balm to be able to listen to her greatest recordings - and they are legion - by way of response.
I'm impressed that the BBC News website has a tribute among its headlines - as, of course, it should, but that kind of thing hasn't been happening recently. Are opera and classical music returning centre-stage as newsworthy?