BBC Music Magazine, October 2010
David Nice
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Performer:  Renée Fleming, Sophie Koch, Diana Damrau, Franz Hawlata, Franz Grundheber, Jonas Kaufmann; Vienna Philharmonia Choir; Munich PO/Christian Thielemann; dir. Herbert Wernicke (Baden-Baden, 2009)

Renée Fleming’s Marschallin is angry, very angry – one way of getting through a production where no one else seems confident of what they ought to be doing. Hardly surprising, since Herbert Wernicke’s production premiered in Salzburg over 13 years before this Baden-Baden restaging, and Wernicke died seven years ago.

The updating (1950s costumes, 1990s hairdos) promises much, but the revival director soon flounders, as becomes clear when Sophie Koch’s Octavian-dressed-as-chambermaid and the Baron Ochs of Franz Hawlata – so good in Carsen’s Salzburg successor – slap each other’s bottoms aimlessly and the ceremonial gathering just mills around. Surely, though, the original wasn’t up to much, to judge from the black-faced pierrot who doubles as the Marschallin’s page, or the mess of mirrors in each scene.

It’s an inadequate showcase for Fleming’s incarnation of a signature role. She still speaks volumes with those expressive eyes and floats the trio’s opening phrase to perfection; but it’s always been an indulgent alliance with Thielemann, who may draw full-bodied tone from the Munich Philharmonic – the odd ensemble lapse apart – but lacks essential lightness and buoyancy.

Sophie Koch produces rich, impassioned sounds and makes a convincing boy but, left to her own devices, overacts; and Diana Damrau, another exquisite phrasemaker, looks scarily ungirlish receiving the silver rose.

She’s much prettier off-screen and says very intelligent things, as does everybody in a model documentary taking us through the opera, in which Kaufmann, handsome and oddly impressive as the Italian tenor, and the Faninal, Franz Grundheber, also feature. 

 back top