Der Rosenkavalier – Opera North – Theatre Royal Newcastle – 2-11-16

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Aleksandar Markovic steps up into his first role as Opera North’s new Musical Director in this revival of David McVicar’s 2002 production, but can he fill the big boy boots left by Richard Farnes?

His first outing, Der Rosenkavalier is a comic opera in three acts, first performed in 1911 and based in 1740’s Vienna, was written by Strauss with a German libretto by Hofmannsthal. The story is based around four main characters around themes of love, loss, sacrifice, family and moral and it has a healthy dose of comedy to help it along the way.

The music is typical lush Strauss with enough waltz action and dynamic changes to please even the most hard to please listener. The score is full of fun and lightness alongside contrasting seriousness and beauty. The conductor shaped the score really nicely and clearly was able to get a lot out of the musicians in front of him. The first two acts seemed to begin tentatively with some nervous playing from particular players but soon settled into a very polished performance. During the third act there seemed to be some intonation issues around the higher string and flute parts, but where I was sat stage left might have been playing tricks with my ears! In particular, the French horns require singling out for their fun and ballsy portamento work. The ensemble seemed really nicely balanced although I would have liked to hear more of the beautiful harp playing which I think really helps some sections of the piece shine. I’m really not doing the musicians justice though by highlighting these things because in sections such as the second act finale and the third act trio, the musicians and conductor created something very special indeed. Markovic and everyone playing harp through triangle gets a “bravo” from me!

The principals had a fantastic set of roles to get their teeth into and everyone came into these roles with a strong pedigree. The German language used in the opera required specialist teaching due to the different forms of language used; the formal Sie, familiar du, and the intermediate Er – to my uneducated ear all performers seemed comfortable. Khilberg as the Marschallin sometimes lost her voice in the work of the musicians. Not sure if this was an over zealous conductor and ensemble or a bit more vocal power required, but between them I’m sure this could be tackled quickly and in the round. However, her performance was nothing short of outstanding, carrying the dignity, the understanding and the depth of her character throughout each scene. To say that Sherman as Octavian stole the show might be an easy throwaway comment, but he (she) absolutely nailed the performance – facial expressions, body language and top class voice demonstrated a clear and deep understanding of the character. Wyn as Sophie was superfluous and again, the ability to get a depth of character to the performance really blew my mind.

Waddington performed with a great swagger and all of the other characters and cast played a great supporting role, shining where needed and always supportive. Stand out sections for me were the opening solo section featuring that context of love and ageing, the awesome crescendo into the ensemble piece in act two and the trio in act three during which I swear I heard a pin drop in the audience. On to the carpeted floor.

der-rosenkavalier

The stage, costumes and make up were fabulous, sumptuous and never overshadowed the opera – really helping to set the scene for the performers. The tech support worked smoothly although for me subtitles on screens either side were just a bit on the small side and just too far out of the frame of vision which meant lots of glancing over the four hours. On the plus side, good for the neck muscles.

The venue seemed to be pretty much sold out and I’m not surprised – Opera North rarely fail to deliver something excellent and tonight was no exception. Once the new MD gets his feet under the table, I expect there will be utterly spectacular things to come.Der

Keith Nicholson

Keith Nicholson
I'm a trumpet player and fan of all kinds of music but jazz and classical are my bae.

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