Kiri Te Kanawa as Strauss’ Marschallin

36 years ago the Royal Opera House assembled a top-notch cast to star in a production of Richard Strauss’ Comedy-in-Music Der Rosenkavalier.

The cast chosen for the occasion was led by Kiri Te Kanawa, then at age 41 at the very top of her prime as the Marshallin. English mezzo-soprano Anne Howells was the Octavian, the American Barbara Bonney sang the role of Sophie, and Danish bass Auge Augland was the Baron Ochs.

The production – elegant to a fault – was directed by John Schlesinger, with scenery by William Dudley and costumes by Maria Bjornson.

The Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House were led by Georg Solti.

Now Opus Arte has re-released a DVD of the production, and the results are just fine.

As the aging Marschallin, Kiri Te Kanawa looks anything but superannuated, ravishing in a variety of gowns, coiffed within an inch of her stage life, and singing like a goddess come to earth. The scene between her and Octavian that ends Act I becomes in her hands a thing of wonder, and much of the Straussian recitative that threatens to wear a little thin as its stretches for minutes on end is handled by her so gracefully that it becomes as melodic as anything the composer ever wrote. The trio that she shares with her colleagues Howells and Bonney towards the end of the opera is a sung gem made all the more appealing by all three participants.

Barbara Bonney sings and acts the perfect Sophie: pert at first, then blossoming vocally and dramatically into a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Anne Howells sings and acts a reliable Octavian, lanky, agile, and funny in his several encounters with Auge Augland’s bumbling, fumbling ox of an Ochs.

The supporting roles are all evenly cast, from Dennis O’Neill’s Italian Singer to Robert Tear’s Valzacchi to Jonathan Summers’ Faninal.

Long in precision and perhaps short on inspiration, Georg Solti leads a solid performance never coloring too far outside the lines.

As a record of one of the iconic performances of the role of the Marschallin, the Opus Arte DVD is invaluable.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS