Largely recast, Glyndebourne’s first revival of Richard Jones’s 2014 staging of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier comes up freshly minted and emerges as a more thoughtful and likeable production than it did when new – perhaps as some of the distractions of the staging don’t puzzle or infuriate so much; there were more laughs heard in the auditorium than is often the case with this opera. Part of the credit must go to Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra who give a dazzlingly fleet and virtuosic account of the score. Allied to this is Ticciati’s lightness of approach which incorporates a refreshing lack of that overblown sentimentality that can kill this opera dead. The waltzes have real sprightliness and time and again one hears details emerging that have been given a good dust-off. The helter-skelter of the prelude to the third Act shows the brilliance of Strauss’s interplay between woodwinds and strings and the playing is stunning. The big moments get their due but not as if in the glare of a spotlight; and balance between pit and stage is well-nigh-perfect.
There are some impressive assumptions of the principal roles. Kate Lindsey is a vocally warm and tireless Octavian, and hugely engaging dramatically. She has great comic flair combined with easy confidence. Octavian’s youthful impetuosity, bravado and occasional teenage sulkiness and uncertainty are all charted with telling truthfulness. The Marschallin is beautifully sung by Rachel Willis-Sørensen who manages somehow to capture a wonderful sense of playfulness in the early bedroom scenes; her little squeal of anticipation of more amorous frolics at “Quinquin, es ist ein Besuch” is priceless. Later on she brings just the right sense of melancholy to the latter stretches of the first Act and in the final one she unleashes more of the power in her rich voice to bring an almost steely authoritarian streak to the character as well as wistful resignation. Elizabeth Sutphen is a bright, light and occasionally spiky Sophie. She took a little while to judge the acoustic with some loss of aural presence and clarity of text, but she gained in confidence and her contributions were ethereally vocalised. It should come as no surprise that Brindley Sherratt is such a vocally strong Baron Ochs with his cavernous yet focussed bottom register and that pleasingly gravelly tone he has. Dramatically he is in his element. Indeed, after all those villainous characters he usually plays, it’s great to see him assuming a role with much humour in it but treating it with engaging deadpan seriousness, and he manages to retain audience sympathy even when Ochs’s appalling conduct cues his final fall.
Michael Kraus remains a vivid Faninal, bringing out all the complexity of this moneyed arriviste well. Several of the important supporting roles are superbly cast too. Gabriele Rossmanith is a brilliantly pokerfaced and vocally gleaming force as Marianne and Martin Snell as the Police Inspector steals the central part of the final Act in a way one would not have thought possible. Stephanie Lauricella is a darkly sinister presence as Annina, aided and abetted by Alun Rhys-Jenkins’s oily Valzacchi. Disappointingly, Andrej Dunaev was having an off-night as the Italian Tenor, taking lower options to the customary high notes. From the Chorus soloists, it may be invidious to single an individual out, but when you really notice the singer of the Milliner (Nardus Williams) in the first Act you know you have a strong and nurturing ensemble.
In a way this says a lot about the colourful and clever staging, revived by Sarah Fahie. Visually arresting, especially some of the costuming, and certainly a bit provocative at times, it also emerges as intelligently thoughtful as it emphasises facets of the social undercurrents of the time when the opera is set as well as some of the intellectual concerns of the period when it was composed.