The epic grandeur of Der Rosenkavalier stems not just from its immense length (over three hours) but from the all-too-human complexity of its characters–each of whom is smitten with someone else–and the endless stream of graceful melodies the composer conjures. After the tonality-stretching dissonance of Salome and especially Elektra, Strauss moved onto a different musical path here: the music's sheer gorgeousness has given this most heartbreaking of 20th-century operas its pride of place in the repertory.
Filmed live in Baden-Baden by the veteran director Brian Large, Renée Fleming makes her debut in the role of Ariadne together with fellow key Strauss interpreters Sophie Koch and Christian Thielemann, following on from their Rosenkavalier triumph. Thielemann conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden, the orchestra to whom Strauss dedicated his Alpine Symphony and which premiered Feuersnot, Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne. Fleming's voice might have been made for Ariadne and she achieved a great personal triumph in this production: “The chief glory of the evening was hearing Renée Fleming, the Straussian soprano par excellence, making her role debut as Ariadne… As the possessor of what is, possibly, the most beautiful soprano voice in the world, she put her vocal treasures in the service of an empathic, nuanced interpretation of the role. From the creamy top, through a rich, warm middle, to the bewitching, darker colours of her lower register, Fleming poured her magnificent sound into Strauss’s enchanting melodic arcs, animating the sadness, vulnerability, and desire of the bereft princess…” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Recorded at the Vienna State Opera house in 1989, this staging of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra is one of the glories of live opera on film, deserving of eternal availability. The DVD picture has great clarity, despite the darkness of Hans Schavernoch’s set design. Other than the cliché of a huge statue head, toppled on its side, the set manages to be suitably representative of a decaying palace as well as an imposing, theatrical space, dominated by the mammoth body of the statue from which the head apparently dropped, draped with the ropes that seem to have enabled the decapitation. Sooner or later most of the characters cling to and twist around those ropes, an apt stage metaphor for the remorseless repercussions from the murder of Agammenon by his unfaithful wife Klytämnestra and her paramour, Aegisthus. Reinhard Heinrich’s costumes capture a distant era while sustaining a creepily modern look — part Goth, part homeless, part Spa-wear.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and their Chief Conductor Sir Andrew Davis continue their acclaimed survey of the orchestral music of Richard Strauss with two contrasting, characterful and ambitious works.
This beloved operetta, which takes place during Carnival celebrations in 18th-century in Venice, shows Strauss’s descriptive writing at its best, helped by his love of Italy. Eine Nacht in Venedig inspired Strauss to compose some of his most successful operetta-music. The Italian atmosphere, the sun, the sea and the Venetian way of life appealed to his creative imagination.
The discography of Strauss’s last opera is not exactly crowded, but the two existing accounts provide formidable competition for any newcomer. First there was Sawallisch, conducting the Philharmonia for EMI in 1957 (unfortunately in mono) and a cast led by Schwarzkopf, Ludwig and Fischer-Dieskau. Then, in 1971, came that other supreme Straussian, Karl Böhm, with Janowitz, Troyanos and (again) Fischer-Dieskau, recorded in Munich for DG. The new Decca set brings together many of today’s leading exponents of Strauss’s roles, dominated, for me, by the unsurpassed Clairon of Brigitte Fassbaender, now alas, never to be heard on stage again following her retirement. Heilmann and Bär make an ardent pair of rival suitors, Hagegård an admirable Count and Halem a sonorous, characterful La Roche. (There is a delightful link with the past history of the opera in the person of Hans Hotter: he sang Olivier in the 1942 premiere, La Roche in the 1957 Sawallisch set, and here, at 84 when recorded in December 1993, a one-line cameo as a servant.) For many, though, the set’s desirability will rest on Te Kanawa’s Countess.