The bait is ‘Mariandel’, hastily invented servant of an important society figure who needed to disguise her young lover when her ghastly cousin called.
Unfortunate, then, that the Marschallin’s coarse visitor should have taken an instant fancy to this lad in maid’s clothing. But handy in the end, when boorish, lecherous Baron Ochs deserves to be caught redhanded, unfaithful to his new trophy wife-to-be.
And if that doesn’t sound elaborate enough, just take a look at Gary McCann's ravishing costume designs and flamboyantly rococo sets in Garsington Opera’s lavish new production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Sensuous flourishes and arabesques pulse on the walls and ceiling of the Marschallin’s boudoir, at first a love nest, then a veritable marketplace as traders bid for her lucrative patronage. Cue another great parade of characters.
Baron Ochs (Derrick Ballard) falls for 'Mariandel' (Hanna Hipp). Photo: Johan Persson
They don’t do things by halves at Garsington Opera. Which is to say that, they do when they have to – half the usual audience members, a somewhat smaller orchestra – but the overall effects that this irrepressible company achieves defy the odds. Even with incredibly exacting Covid measures in rehearsal, Garsington dishes up a feast for the eyes and ears.
Meanwhile, that other dinner date is in trouble. Lovely Sophie has arrived to see her horrid old beau up to his neck in trouble. With the help of dashing young Octavian – Mariandel’s real-life persona – Sophie is free to love him instead. That young love lay ahead for Octavian is foreseen, despite his protestations, by the older Marschallin, despite his protestations. She is gorgeous, yes, but time is one of life’s gifts, and it is running out.
The awareness of an older woman that time passing is at the core of Der Rosenkavalier. Set in the 18th century, when lives were short, it does not lose its poignancy when rebooted into the 1950s, as in Bruno Ravella’s production, and played to a robust 21st century audience, even with its goodly share of grey heads.
What makes the opera indestructibly moving is its noble sentiment that we should embrace passing time as much as everything else that life has to offer. In this production, that rich variety is generously suggested in these great crowd scenes – crowd scenes, remember them? – and with a tsunami of music.
Sophie (Madison Leonard) receives a ceremonial love token from Octavian (Hanna Hipp). Photo: Johan Persson
Jordan de Souza conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in a highly successful version for 40-plus musicians of Strauss’s colossal score. Here are textural marvels, such as the petals of a silver rose that tumble through the piccolo, flute and celeste, while the female soloists soar like the nightingale seen and heard in the gardens just beyond the stage.
And what soloists! First up, Hanna Hipp as Octavian, the mezzo-soprano in a trouser role adding to the layers of ambiguity in Der Rosenkavalier. This devoted lover is wrecked when the Marschallin warns that their affair cannot last. You completely believe in this earnest 17-year-old youth, whether he is frisking around the bedroom or chivalrously coming to Sophie’s rescue, a boyishness bouncing through the ever certain voice.
As the Marschallin, Miah Persson renews with Hipp a partnership much admired in Garsington’s exquisite Capriccio in 2018. The glamorous wife of a commanding officer can have anything at the click of a finger. But only she can – must – liberate Octavian, which she does with love and solemnity.
Maybe she will take comfort in her sumptuous wardrobe. Witness, for example, the canary yellow satin Dior-style two-piece, with a nipped-in peplum jacket and huge New Look skirt. If the Garsington Opera audience’s internalised envy for a single costume had become audible, even the Philharmonia would have been drowned out. With her Grace Kelly bob – she rejects an ageing hairpiece – Persson’s Marschallin is both sage and serene.
Hopeful Faninal (Richard Burkhard) and Marianne (Rebecca von Lipinski) wait for Sophie's beau. Photo: Johan Persson
From American soprano Madison Leonard comes a Sophie who grows up before our eyes, a box-fresh young Judy Garland/Doris Day at her innocent outset, who matures visibly and vocally as the real world floods into her protected childhood.
The appalling Baron Ochs, hard up, uncouth and reliant on his blood connections, is genuinely amusing as performed by Derrick Ballard. Richard Burkhard is the self-made man Faninal hoping to marry Sophie into this seedy branch of the aristocracy, and there are characterful performances from many in the huge cast, including Rebecca von Lipinski has Sophie’s optimistic companion Marianne, and Julian Close as the fine-voiced police chief.
Only a few weeks ago a production on this scale was unthinkable. That Garsington Opera could conjure up this amount of magic, against all odds, is a story in itself. You can learn more here…
Der Rosenkavalier is sung in German with English surtitles. Returns only, but click here for returns
|What||Der Rosenkavalier, Garsington Opera review|
|Where||Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate , Stokenchurch, HP14 3YG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Marylebone (underground)|
02 Jun 21 – 03 Jul 21, Nine performances, with long dinner interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|