22 MARCH 1968, Page 23

Blown rose


The Covent Garden revival of Visconti's pro- duction of Der Rosenkavalier, newly rehearsed by John Copley, has obviously been carefully thought out, yet I must confess that I came away last week somewhat disappointed. Part of the trouble lies in the production itself. Visconti's sets do not wear well, especially Faninal's drawing-room with that extraordinary plant dominating the centre of the stage, and the prominent gilded statue with its bent elbow and fingers outstretched on head. There is too much horseplay, especially by Ochs's servants, in Act 2. And some details of the production seemed to me, simply, wrong. At the end of Act 1, for instance, Octavian walks so slowly from the stage that he is still visible as the mood abruptly changes in the orchestra, and the Marschallin starts up violently at the thought that she has let him go without a farewell kiss. Octavian wants to be out of sight at least one or two bars before this change of mood takes place or the dramatic point is lost.

I was not happy, either, with some of Georg Solti's conducting, though there was plenty of vivid detail, and, indeed, most of the orchestral

playing was itself very fine. But Solti seemed in places too loud and aggressive, at other times deficient in forward movement, Thus, the great trio in the last act, after a lovely beginning. seemed last Wednesday to lose impulse—Solti missed the full effectiveness of the sudden piano before 'Da steht der Bub,' and one didn't have quite the feeling of three characters experiencing a sense of fulfilment in one of the greatest of all musical ensembles; I always think. whenever I hear this trio, of Strauss's wife listening to the composer's preliminary improvisations on the piano and shouting urgently to him 'Go on. go on.'

As for the singers, it is sad to have to record that that very distinguished Straussian. Lisa della Casa, as the Marschallin, sounded well below her best, though there were certainly moments of great beauty in her performance. Yvonne Minton's debut as Octavian, on the other hand, was a success. Perhaps she overdid a little, as does nearly every Octavian, the maudlin Mariandel in the supper scene. But there was a youthful forthrightness about this performance, and also sonic lovely lower notes. Elizabeth Robson, as Sophie. couldn't quite soar up to 'Wie hinunlische. as her hearers would have wished, but she is clearly a Straus- sian of high promise and intelligtnce; and Michael Langdon's Ochs. if occasionally ardu- ous, was one of the strongest points of the evening—he was not only dramatically enter- taining. but he also sang his music most admirably.

The lesser parts—Faninal. Valzacchi and Annina, the landlord of the tavern, to name only a few—are mostly done extremely well, and this makes it all the more regrettable that the performance as a whole must be rated non- vintage. I hope that less than successful produc- tions, like the present one, will not lead to a fashion for denigrating this opera. To write off the Rosenkavalier as simply 'pretty' would seem to me as misguided as to rate it a flawless masterpiece. When 311 is said, Strauss was not only an immensely clever composer, but he did also have a genuine grasp of human feelings in a concrete situation. Perhaps that is why One can't help measuring performances against an ideal which was indeed, from all accounts, pretty nearly realised at Covent Garden in the 1920s and 1930s.