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"The irony is that much of this Rosenkavalier looks green, upon part of producer, maestro, and Marschallin. In terms of casting, this looks like quite a competitive dvd of Rosenkavalier, and with the Octavian (Vesselina Kasarova) slightly better than I expected. Much of the supporting cast is fine, especially the Notary (Guido Goetzen), Commissar (Gunther Groissbock), but also landlord (Volker Vogel), Annina (Brigitte Pinter), Duenna (Liuba Chuchrova), and host of major-domos, vendors, orphans, and footmen. The Italian Tenor (Boiko Svetanov) is strained and Valzacchi (Rudolf Schasching) undercharacterized.
Vesselina Kasarova's Octavian goes toe-to-toe with some of the best Octavians we have ever had on disc. Nothing ever sounds a little too pushed, strained as it even does with good artists in this part, in getting the impetuosity of the lad across. The comedy, forgiving a little misguided stage direction here and there, she plays and enjoys to the hilt. The 'Mariandel' scenes in Act One, and even to some extent in Act Three, are as funny as you will come across elsewhere. Kasarova's tone is full and even all the way across, and always interesting in color, making allowance for a little awkwardness of diction.
Equally praiseworthy is the Sophie of Malin Hartelius, an artist I have only seen before as Pamina, from Zurich again, on dvd. She has the warm tone for lower notes and midrange, ethereal high notes to almost closely rival Helen Donath and Lucia Popp, and together with all that warmth of character and charm, without even momentarily turning droopy or coy. She stands up to the Baron as well as any, and shares the stage very well with the Octavian.
The Baron Ochs of Alfred Muff, some vocal grayness and a few moments of sprechstimme apart, is fine, if not in the first class of Ochses. Still, he is preferable to some, more comedic and a bit more likable than Kurt Rydl on cd for Haitink and resisting the temptation to play the Baron as a buffoon, as happens too much with Otto Edelmann on the EMI set with Schwarzkopf and Karajan and as is discouraged by Strauss. He was likely to have been discouraged here from doing so - if so, an unusually wise move for this production (Sven-Eric Bechtolf). The Faninal of Rolf Haunstein is overparted and only routinely funny - no match to Benno Kusche on Kleiber I.
Vocally, the Marschallin of Nina Stemme is as full and sumptuous as anyone could ever ask for, and with sufficiently mature voice to belie her age, albeit with still some bloom on top. She interacts well and comedically with Kasarova in both the opening and the `Mariandel' scenes of Act One. If one merely just listens to Stemme, one would find a few lines still a bit lachrymose and still some other crucial lines not quite fully formed interpretatively. It is yet another thing to watch her on the video.
Without hearing it as such, this is a neurotic Marschallin, given to crying spells (as evident in the closing scene of Act One, when it has begun to wash over her that Octavian will soon get the hint), and yet in as ladylike a manner possible, apoplectic fits, where she more or less gently collapses to the floor. There is a lack of originality here. Those who love Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's Marschallin will rebel, for the same we get from her vocally as we do here visually.
It is in the final scene of Act Three that inexperience really shows. Nina Stemme gets locked into an all-purpose smirk in her oversight of the resolve to the proceedings of Act Three, sterilized and insufficiently comedic here, for example Annina's picked up children in butterfly wing costumes. And to what kind of posterity does Nina Stemme want to leave her acting for what has also been a rather heavily led Trio in the finale from the podium? She collapses to the floor at the end of the Trio and has to be helped toward exiting the stage by Octavian and Sophie, barely having made it off before the other two have resumed singing.
Tall, charming young doe Stemme is, what is it for the Marschallin's chances to have Octavian back for a fling next time the Feldmarschall is out of town, or seek dalliances with others? Or perhaps the Marschallin has already been making a habit of it. Watch her final re-entry with Faninal, walking in quite separately from him, the way she walks in, gestures to him, and nuances both facially and vocally one of the most revered closing lines in all opera - "Ja, Ja." Again, for sake of posterity, I hope that ten years down the road, Stemme gets another crack at it.
Franz Welser-Most conducts much of Rosenkavalier little more than adequately, smoothly and with warmth, and most of the time with the right lilt for the abundant waltz music with which so much of this music is imbued. His conducting of the opening and closing scenes of Act One both have the right degree of introspection, in support of the two protagonists on stage.
Some of the smoothness of his approach can be at times a little too much of a good thing, however, and the Zurich opera orchestra seems a bit overpowered by a few of the demands the score makes. Welser-Most seems especially shy of some of more vehement and dissonant pages in the score, seeming to apologize for some of them. Similar to along lines with Karajan, some lack of musical and dramatic contrastis the price we pay. He also makes slightly heavy weather of the Trio, and in response gets a stentorian, slightly plodding response from all three ladies.
Most deleterious, in addition to his taking most of the usual stage cuts, is a disfiguring cut he takes to the latter part of the scene of Octavian's duel, resulting in this case in an implausible potentially mortal stab wound to the Baron's foot. The Faninal household, including the Lerchenau gang its midst, has no time to react, and the harmonic change so disjunct and awkward that Stauss could not have ever advocated it. This is clearly a place where the music, that of Richard Strauss, has been forced into accommodating the (stage and) stage direction. The lining up of the left and right hand sides of the stage with choristers for the cries of "Der Skandal!" during the Police Commissar scene of Act Three is also cheap and equally insipid.
Sets are uniformly gray and white, with through the windows at back a more than perennial icy, fogged up gray, and some lack of variety in lighting. Staging wise, things hold out some promise for the first two thirds of Act One, though imagine your dismay when you see the same set for Act Three. One wants the Faninal kitchen in Act Two to open out for the Presentation of the Rose, into a grand hall and foyer for the Faninal palace; such never occurs. The entire action of Act Two takes place, in effect, backstage. Appearances by different characters in rear upper window - idea that only holds out slight promise at first - quickly becomes tiresome by the end of the act. One or two silent parts, including that of a mysterious tremulous and emaciated looking noble at the Faninals, and momentarily a few times, Leopold (played by a teenager) are too obtrusive.
Image quality is fine, sound quality a bit recessed, annotation sparse, extra features nonexistent. For complete credits, one must see the end of the truly Bergmanesque last track of Act Three. Especially for a sticker price of forty bucks, pass this one up and stick with the Munich Kleiber(I) - unfortunate for how fine Kasarova and Hartelius are, yet also for the star turns of especially Alfred Muff and also of Nina Stemme. We will be hearing much more from her soon.
Didn't quite make it work
Mr John Haueisen | WORTHINGTON, OHIO United States | 08/19/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"To succeed, Der Rosenkavalier has to contrast the aristocratic elegance of nineteenth century Vienna with the "cheap" actions of Baron Ochs. It has to display the majesty of Her Majesty the Marschallin as she grows into a better person.
This production comes up lacking in several respects. Here's what I think is wrong:
Baron Ochs is cheap and nasty enough (of course, that's how he's supposed to be), but the scenery, costumes, staging and acting are not elegant, which would help to provide a contrast with his boorish behavior.
The "presentation of the rose," one of the most memorable scenes in opera, is introduced here with Octavian in the kitchen (instead of in a Grand Hall) and Sophie behind a door. No opportunity is taken to show that wonderful moment of "love at first sight."
Who decided that noblemen Ochs and Octavian would not wear swords? This resulted in requiring Octavian to prick Ochs in the thigh with a kitchen knife--typical of this dressing-down of an opulent opera.
The entire scene at the inn, with Baron Ochs and Mariandel is performed in a small, tent or gazebo.
Who decided to transform the innkeeper and servants into multi-colored beetles? And why do the children have wings?
It is tempting at this point to dismiss this as just another piece of "Euro-Trash," trying to look different just for the sake of being different. But the singing is very well-done.
Malin Hartelius is a charming, lovely, sweet Sophie, with singing abilities to match. Nina Stemme as the Marschallin and Vesselina Kasarova (Octavian) offer good singing but costumes and acting leave much to be desired.
If this is to be your first experience with Rosenkavalier, please start with Kiri Te Kanawa, Felicity Lott, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, or Elizabeth Whitehouse as the Marschallin. The productions featuring these sopranos are far more satisfying and "work" to help the story make sense. If you've seen several productions of Rosenkavalier, and enjoy seeing a "different" performance, you will enjoy this.
As already mentioned, this production is well-sung, but it could have been wonderful if they had dressed it up using upscale staging and scenery, rich costumes, and classy acting. Many operas can be staged in different settings to make a dramatic statement. But this classic opera about the elegance and decadence of Old Vienna cannot easily be removed from that setting. At least they didn't quite make it work here."
Rosenkavalier liberated from time and place
Jesse Knight | woburn ma usa | 01/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rosenkavalier is far more than a period piece. There are elements to this story that have meaning for all people at all times. This is a new production that helps us see this. Unfortunately there are a few flaws which have angered purists and literalist viewers before the good changes could be fully understood.
This "regietheater" production actually might make more sense to someone who is not familiar with this opera than a conventional DVD, due to the emotional honesty. Just reading a brief synopsis of Rosenkavalier will clear up any confusion. There are no added lines to confuse the newcomer. The added gags are brief and do not alter the story line.
In a traditional production, such as the excellent Covent Garden DVD with Solti conducting, Sophie (Barbara Bonney) reacts to Baron Ochs in a mild way that would make a modern viewer think that Sophie has no self worth. Only a viewer with knowledge of old Vienna will get the meaning of the signals that are given. In my opinion, asking the younger viewer to make what amounts to an emotional translation, in an era of open emotional communication, is asking too much. There is a strong need for this updated version.
Hofmannsthal (the librettist) makes it clear in act one that Baron Ochs has a teenage concept of dating that is no different from that of teenagers from the 1960s (my era). Alfred Muff (Baron Ochs in this DVD) gives us exactly what Hofmannsthal wanted,in my opinion. Malin Hartelius reacts as any liberated woman would to his advances, creating a Sophie we can really feel sorry for, yet laugh along with, as she fights back. This gives added meaning to Baron Ochs line: "I would not have missed the young girl's rebellious fury"
Haunstein's Faminal may not reach the level of Muff and Hartelius but it is still good if we think of him as an Archie Bunker type, who made a killing in the space race. The original Faminal character was a weapons salesman. Having Sophie prepare her own wedding dinner,an added touch, is the ultimate signal that Faminal has no class, just money. What we have is a 1910 vintage look, overlaying an old Vienna story, expressed in current emotional terms.
Maybe the worst problem is that Octavian starts out using a fire poker as a sword in act one, and a kitchen knife in act two. This is silly but typical "regietheater" that should not blind us to some genuine insights.
One point of widespread agreement is Malin Hartelius's superb Sophie. Not only is her singing excellent, but her acting transcends the small screen in a way that rivals Cesare Siepi as Don Giovanni in the 1954 film conducted by Furtwangler. Her Melanto, Pamina, Blonde and Fatime (Les Indes Gallante) are also wonderful. She brings out the best in the singers she works with.
The Octavian, (Vesselina Kasarova) is acted and sung dangerously close to the edge. Hers is the most impulsive Octavian I have ever seen. Even so, her voice blends well with Hartelius as Sophe. Others disagree, but I find the "presentation of the rose" very touching here as Sophie has an attack of shyness and hides from Octavian. I don't think anyone but Hartelius could have pulled this off so well. This is offset by Nina Stemme's somewhat aloof Marschallin. Kasarova is a wonderful Penelope in Monteverdi's Ulisse, so this is not a style this excellent singer is addicted to.
If we were to only judge this Rosenkavalier by the singing and audio recording it would certainly be one of the best available, with the exception of the tenor in act one, who screams his aria. Welser-Most goes for stronger strings and less brass in balancing the orchestra than Solti and Kleiber. This results in less impact and a more lyrical sound. This is a great opera that offers unending pleasure and unending possibilities for new interpretations. Hofmannsthal was possibly the greatest librettist of all time. Richard Strauss was the perfect composer for him to work with."
Forget about the Staging, Delight in the Acting
Brantwood | Buffalo By USA | 08/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I believe that Vesselina Kasarova is one of the finest musical artists working today, and it was her presence in this production that led to my buying it, and, in July of 2008, going to see it live in Zurich. After I got home I read the other reviews here and concluded that I must do everything I can to persuade readers to take a chance on something roundly criticized elsewhere in this collection of reviews. I would have to say that IF you can be satisfied with just one DVD version of this stupendous composition - ROSENKAVALIER is surely one of the ten finest works of art created in the 20th Century - then you owe it to Strauss and Hofmannsthal to buy one of the recordings which celebrate the splendor of 18th Century Vienna, one in which the magnificence of settings and costumes combine with the music to make a kind of paradise. (Either one of the two recordings in which Carlos Kleiber works his magic would be my recommendation.) BUT, given that the music does not in the least bit suffer in this Zurich production I would urge you to buy it and cherish it as I do, as the version in which one comes closest - miraculously close, I would say - to seeing the two characters the libretto specifically calls for: a 17-year-old Octavian and a 15-year-old Sophie. And their presence then establishes the context for a magnificent Marschallin.
It is beyond question impossible for two singers still in their teens to sing the roles of the young lovers in a convincing way, but I would argue that this recording is proof that two singers in their maturity - Kasarova was born in the early 60s, Hartelius is a little younger, I think - can ACT is a very convincing way, and that with only a small amount of the willing suspension of disbelief an empathetic spectator can enjoy this version to a unique degree by concentrating on the success with which the the "young people" find each other and get set to live happily ever after.
It is VERY hard for someone whose previous experience - live and with film - has always involved seeing productions which set the opera where it "belongs," to see why the designers in Zurich have been so wayward in choosing to have the second act set in the kitchen of the Faninal mansion, and the third act on the same set as the first. But as I have looked back at it all I find myself wondering whether those choices were made to enable us to see three things (at least these three - perhaps there were other, perhaps many others I have missed so far): Sophie's childlike ordinariness when surrounded by a "family" of servants; Octavian's use of a kitchen knife instead of a sword to let Ochs know what he thinks of him; and, very touching indeed, in the third act, at almost the very end (for Mahomet is alone as the curtain comes down even though there isn't a handkerchief for him to look for): Sophie's having to come back on stage to take Octavian's hand and lead him away from his one last look at the place where he and Marie Therese had found happiness together.
And the great triumph of Kasarova's performance (Malin Hartelius as Sophie is not quite so consistently good, I think) is that she conveys in every gesture, every nuance, every response to the developing situation the response appropriate for a callow youth. In the second act especially, Octavian is there not as the confident silver-clad commanding figure you find with von Otter or Fassbender or Baltsa, but as a rather puzzled kid who has never had this assignment before (or anything like it) and cannot possibly live up to the fanfares preceding his arrival. He's in the same clothes he had in the first act and now one notices that they don't fit him very well. The fact that Kasarova and Hartelius are exactly the same height makes the beyond-words-wonderful instant when their eyes meet into a moment out of time. They can't get a hold on the emotions the encounter has inspired, but it is so right that Octavian reaches for Sophie's hand - to assure them both, as it were, that they are still in the real world. And the response of both to Ochs's boorishness seems more from-the-gut than it usually does - these are two kids who have just seen a glimpse of a love-heaven and they NEED to show how impossible it is for either of them to accept what is going on. Octavian's five futile attempts to tell Ochs about what "Die Fraülein" thinks of him lead up to the grand moment when the young man draws himself up to his full height (He still needs to tilt his head at a 45-degree angle to be able to look Ochs in the eye.) and sings so solemnly "Die Fraülein, kurz und gut, die Fraülein mag ihn nicht" that we cannot help laughing at the incongruity of the David-and-Goliath confrontation - and again at the crazy moment when a sword-less Octavian (he would have looked stupid wearing a sword) grabs a kitchen knife and stabs Ochs in the big toe. He has won our hearts by his gallantry and concern for his beloved - grace under stress.
I am convinced that - whatever the point of all the wacky DESIGN decisions may or may not have been - the ACTING was/is sharply and deliberately focussed on the fact that Hofmannsthal chose to make the hero a 17-year-old and the ingenue a young woman (I wonder when puberty arrived in old Vienna?) of 15. And the Marschallin's every act, every word, takes that fact into account. More than usual, I would argue, from the very outset of Act I, she knows that she and Octavian have made love for the last time. There is this sweet sweet moment when as she is playing the part of mother and pouring his hot chocolate for her Bub', she fills the cup and then keeps pouring onto the tablecloth making a little drawing of something we can't see: Octavian finds this VERY disconcerting. How can a grown-up woman do such a thing? He is about to find out what a grown-up woman can do. One of the other reviewers here is appalled by the fact that Octavian doesn't have a sword and has to wave a poker when the libretto contains a reference to a weapon - so, of course, must the Marschallin when she admonishes him for leaving it on display - but I am even more sure, having watched those two acts again and again, that THIS Octavian is SO young and wet behind the ears that, whatever the truth of the matter regarding what 17-year old aristocrats did or didn't do back then, he would have looked stupid with an actual sword in his hand - in BOTH acts.
I also saw the new Zurich production of CARMEN when I was there and when I think of how heavy-set and muscular and domineering Kasarova's Carmen is I am in awe of her ability to shrink down to the size of this kid: out-of-his-depth, inept, bewildered, but oh so open to what that moment when their eyes meet will do to him, mean for him. Yes it's crazy that when the time comes for the rose to be handed to the bride-to-be she goes and hides in a cupboard, but how beautifully it draws out the passage of time between when the rose is actually handed to her (around the cupboard door) and when they both look where love wants them to look - into each others eyes. In spite of the really-really-irritating LOOK of the production much of the time, this concentration on HOW young the young couple are makes this the ROSENKAVALIER I shall cherish most."
5 stars if you close your eyes...
bert1761 | Washington, DC United States | 09/29/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"but only three for the DVD because the point of a DVD is that one watch. Unfortunately, the production design and stage directions detract from the glorious singing and vocal acting that otherwise would have made a very compelling "Rosenkavalier."
On the plus side, Nina Stemme's Marschallin, Malin Hartelius's Sophie and Alfred Muff's Ochs are among the best sung performances of their respective roles. I have never heard Ms. Stemme in finer voice. Ms. Hartelius may lack the last degree of radiance that singers like Barbara Bnney and Lucia Popp have brought to the role, but she sings beautifully and adds an extra element of spunk to the character of Sophie that makes her a three-dimensional young woman. Mr. Muff sings quite well and does not come across as quite the oaf that others in the role do. But unlike another reviewer who found that this quality made Mr. Muff's Ochs more likeable than most, I found this Ochs to be the most malevolent and hateful of any I have seen or heard.
But the star of this production is clearly Vesselina Kasarova's astonishing Octavian. Every utterance from her mouth is magnificently sung, and she makes one believe she is a seventeen-year-old boy at every moment. She is simply amazing to watch and hear.
On the downside, the production design is atrocious and lazy and the director's (I believe it is his, rather than Ms. Stemme's) conception of the Marschallin is misguided at best and appalling at worst. The first act clearly takes place in the Marschallin's bedroom (is it should). so why is the third act there as well? The second act is set in the kitchen of the Faninal palace. I hardly think the presentation of the rose would take place there -- and that moments before it is to occur, Sophie would be in an apron breading veal.
But the most egregious faults come in the interpretation forced upon Ms. Stemme. Instead of the dignified young woman who graciously accepts her current circumstances, we are given a neurotic woman who needs to be the center of attention. After the great Act II trio, the Marschallin is supposed to exit discreetly, almost unperceived by Octavian and Sophie. Yet the director has Ms. Stemme fall on the way out and be helped up by Octavian and Sophie. While it could have been a touching change, it makes no sense that the young lovers must sing their ecstatic final duet immediately upon disengaging from a "group hug" with the Marschallin.
Worst of all is the very ending. Instead of having Mohammed come in and pick up Sophie's handkerchief, signalling that Sophie may inevitably become like the Marschallin, we have Mohammed place his hand against the window to the Marschallin's bedroom where the Marschallin's hand is pressed against the opposite side. Given the way the Marschallin has been portrayed to that point, the final scene created a creepy impression of the Marschallin as a potential pedophile.
In contrast to what an earlier reviewer has to say, I don't think Ms. Stemme will consider this performance a black spot in her repertoire. As none of the nonsense I have described comes out in her SINGING, and many of them are clearly derived from stage directions, I have to conclude thatthe bad choices were the directors and not hers.
With all that being said, the DVD still makes an attractive and reasonably priced alternative to a CD recording of this wonderful opera. Just don't turn on the TV picture."