Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Rosenkavalier classes: let in the light
Yesterday's class launching the spring term of my Opera in Depth course at the Frontline Club dealt with the background of my leibsoper (ie the one I love the best), Strauss and Hofmannsthal's 'comedy for music' Der Rosenkavalier. The tube strike wrought havoc; some of the students who came - an impressive two-thirds of the 30 or so signed up - had spent over three hours battling to get to Paddington. I was relatively lucky, cycling to and fro, but I got drenched on the way back.
Yes, it was an awful day in London town. But we all went away, I fancy, beaming with the light and life of Strauss (in this first class, not just Rosenkavalier, where we reached only the Prelude, but also the beginning and end of his first opera, Guntram, and the waltz-sequence from his second, Feuersnot). What could be more of a tonic for the grim hanging-on of winter, other than Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Verdi's Falstaff or Wagner's Die Meistersinger, all three cited by Strauss and Hofmannsthal as role-models in one way or another? Pictured above by Catherine Ashmore, Anna Stéphany as a totally convincing Octavian in Act Two in the second (but absolutely world-class) cast of Robert Carsen's challenging Royal Opera production. Below, the equally impressive Rachel Willis-Sørensen as the Marschallin in Act Three.
This will be the third time in 28 years that I've examined my favourite opera in a lecture series (the other two were under the aegis of Opera in Focus at the City Lit, an institution I've not had any regrets about leaving other than the general one of giving up support for subsidised adult education, poorly paid though it was). I'm not looking back on notes or examples from those previous occasions, and as always I'm excited by how much more material we have to work with. Since the last time, there have been several more Rosenkavaliers on DVD, Richard Jones's Glyndebourne production the most significant, and several invaluable CD archive reissues.
I'm now the proud owner of an Austrian Archive DVD of the 1926 silent film with live accompaniment. Reading-wise, there's no end to how much more one can nose out about Hofmannsthal, though we badly need a good English language biography.
Which there is, I'm glad to say, of Count Harry Kessler, the brains behind the original scenario. I've started reading Laird M Easton's clear and sober study, and I'm hooked. This is a neat sequel to Zweig-worship, since Kessler is another of those passionate Europeans whose devotion has special resonance for our own turbulent time. More of that anon; I've also just ordered up Easton's edition of Kessler's Diaries to 1918.
In the meantime, if you're living close enough to town to join us, it's not too late: next Monday we embark on the opera proper. Dame Felicity Lott, with whom I've had the most delightful e-correspondence and whom I've interviewed on several occasions, lovely lady, will visit us on 30 January. I've been melted by her Marschallin live on three occasions - she's also on the second of the Kleiber-conducted DVDs - though I never saw her Octavian in the 1980 Glyndebourne production designed by Erté, aka Romain de Tirtoff. Below, the design which appeared on the cover of the programme.
Which I still have, because as a teenager I was taken to Glyndebourne for the first time, but to see Haydn's La fedeltà premiata conducted by one Simon Rattle, not the Rosenkavalier, worse luck (though I can tick off the Haydn on the list and hope not to see any more of his after English Touring Opera's brave shot at Il mondo della luna as Life on the Moon).
Richard Jones comes along to the Frontline the week after FLott, on 7 February. So it looks as if we'll be devoting seven weeks to Rosenkav with those chats included before moving on to Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) for the last three. Can't wait to see that for the first time on stage in Opera North's production in a couple of weeks.
Let's end with a couple of amusing sideswipes. Can you believe that the below was the image the Dutch National Opera used to herald its new production in 2015?
I can, erm, sympathise with the idea of Octavian as delicious young fawn - though I fear anyone going on the strength of that might have been disappointed by a girl in breeches - but it's unforgivable to portrait the (32-year-old) Marschallin as the 'old woman', however elegant, she foresees herself becoming (eventually). And while we're on the side of age, here's an unexpected cavalier of a golden rose.
No less than Pope Ratz, who might well have been giving it to his handsome assistant but in fact was following the Catholic tradition of a golden rose to a deserving church. Hofmannsthal, or Kessler, got the idea from this source, though I read that the presentation was to daughters of the nobility. Anyway, there's a very elaborate papal rose in the Hofburg's treasury.