Der Rosenkavalier (1984)

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23 December 2005 | Gyran
| Almost like a ballet
There are better operas than Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, the Ring and Mozart's Da Ponte operas to name just seven, but I think this is my favourite. I have only managed to hear it live once but I have seen three different versions on film. What is striking is the similarities between all these productions. It is always done with traditional costumes and sets. No one (yet) has tried to set it in a lap-dancing club or a psychiatric institution. It is a very long opera but there are three key moments: in Act 1, the Marschallin gently tries to make her young lover Octavian accept that he will one day leave her; in Act 2 Octavian presents the rose to Sophie and you feel the frisson between them; in Act 3, the Marschallin gracefully gives up Octavian to Sophie's care. The entire piece is choreographed, almost like a ballet. Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto is so specific that you see the same details in every production: Octavian's and Sophie's eyes meeting as he presents the rose, the Marschallin's hand trailing to be taken by Octavian as she says her final goodbye, the little boy retrieving Sophie's lost handkerchief at the end.

In this 1984 film, Anna Tomowa-Sintow is a somewhat matronly Marschallin. She is very moving during her gentle persuading in Act 1 but appears somewhat underpowered for the climactic trio in Act 3. Janet Perry is an attractive Sophie and soars beautifully during that same trio. Agnes Baltsa is in fine voice as Octavian but is the wrong side of 40 to get away with playing a 17 year-old boy. She always looks like a woman and is more convincing when she dresses up as the servant Mariandel than when she wearing Octavian's trousers.

This is in contrast to the 1994 version, starring Anne Sofie von Otter, Felicity Lott and Barbara Bonney. Anne Sofie von Otter makes an elegant young man and looks clumsy and unconvincing when she is dressed up as a woman, which is how it should be. Interestingly, Kurt Moll plays the odious Baron Ochs in both films. It is one of the nastiest roles in the opera repertoire simply because it is so human and believable. I marginally preferred him in this 1984 version because, being ten years younger, he looks more evil for evil's sake rather than just being another dirty old man.

I have already reviewed the 1994 film, as well as the 1985 version with Kiri Te Kanawa. This 1984 film is not quite in the same class although it would not disgrace anyone's collection. Herbert von Karajan obtains a nuanced performance from the orchestra and I particularly like the way he distinguishes the coarser music of the Baron Ochs episodes from the overriding romanticism of the rest of the piece. At the risk of doing serious damage to my tear-ducts I listened again to the final trio from all three versions. Lott and von Otter really do shade it from the other two performances helped by the overpowering romanticism of Carlos Kleiber's conducting

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