Opera Review by Polly Hope

Royal Opera House Covent Garden London

Oh, yes yes yes, of course Rosenkavalier is my most favourite opera. It really has absolutely everything: life, death, love, youth, old age, passion and resignation, humour and sadness and loads of sex, lots of it on stage. It is all there ravishingly expressed through almost divine music. I know it isn’t very fashionable to like tunes and romance in opera, especially if played, as here, in a perfect rococo set without a projection or lump of abstract art in sight, but so what. Audiences love Rosenkavalier, and that’s how it should be

This opera isn’t just the music, the text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal is tremendous, a story for grown ups with words they might even speak themselves. Hofmannsthal raided many sources, Moliere and Mozart among others, for the plot, but he re-jigged the nicked stories to suit his conception of an 18th century Vienna. Curiously he came up with the unique and perfect combination of a historical work that feels completely in period yet is a real modern opera. No wonder the German-speaking world went crazy with excitement at the premiere in Dresden in 1911; special trains ran from all over Germany bringing hordes of enthusiasts to performances.

The present production dates from the early 1980s, John Schlesinger was the original director. He did a good job and today it still looks and feels as new and as dewy as the famous Silver Rose. Krill Petrenko conducts, I’ve not heard him before but he was brilliant, not a note missed or fuzzy, no wallowing in sentiment, which can so easily happen with this wondrous score.

So to the singers. All fine. Sophie Kock’s Octavian was the best girl-as-a-boy-as-a-girl I’ve ever seen. She wasn’t acting a boy, she had become a boy, an innocent youth much trembling on the edge of adulthood, but a sexy little rogue.Her voice was a bit rough, but I was told in the interval she had been ill for a week prior to the premiere so she can be forgiven

The Marschallin, what a role to deal with, Act 1 all passion, then nothing until the end of Act 111 and the hand over of Octavian to his bimbo Sophie. Soile Isokoski was noble and loving and looked great, not quite the star quality of Kiri Ti Kanawa, or quite the voice, but no real complaints. Sophie looked, and actually is, very young, Lucy Crowe was so pretty and she trilled those challenging high notes perfectly.

The wretched men did well, The Baron Ochs of Peter Rose was remarkable,I even felt a wee bit sorry for him being given such a bad time. Dear Thomas Allen, still going strong, sang von Faninal with wit and clarity. He is such a great actor as well as singer

All the rest were just fine. Not a dull moment in an almost five hour long work. No snoring in the audience and neither was I reading the rather long and turgid articles in the programme as I so often resort to when performances drag.

A joyous evening. I only hope they put this Rosenkavalier on every year, so much better than the ROH’s present Christmas offering of Hansel and Gretel which drowns in modernist clichés.

Polly Hope. London