There are a lot of films of Richard Strauss's evergreen classic 'Der Rosenkavalier' and this is one of the better ones. The two films of Carlos Kleiber's conducting of this opera are famous, the first one still being the best bet for newcomers to this art form in this particular work.
Semyon Bychkov comes very close to Kleiber in excellence, with a splendid cast of leads, if not ideal in some instances. Robert Carsen's sets are beautiful and largely traditional. He moves the time of the story up from the 18th century to somewhere in the 19th with touches of the 20th here and there in the costuming. When this production premiered there was a lot of griping about the 3rd act, here set in a bawdy house instead of a good old-fashioned tavern. There is some male nudity which does seem gratuitous but it is funny as it gives Baron Ochs something hilarious to respond to in his befuddled moment of humiliation.
Other than that this production is pretty straight forward and faithful to Hugo von Hofmanthal's libretto.
The Vienna Philharmonic plays with its usual (and expected) expertise in this piece and Bychkov captures all the magic and comedy inherent in the score. His cast is about the best that could have been assembled at the time. Adrianne Pieczonka is a tougher cookie than most Marschallins but she displays all the wisdom and sympathy lovers of this opera expect in this roll, and she sings beautifully and powerfully in the 3rd act. Her famous first act monologue about the passing of time is satisfyingly touching if not as tear-jerking as other famous Marschallins, like Régine Crespin and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Oktavian, the eponymous hero, is beautifully sung by Angelika Kirschlager, a fine actress as well, though she looks too feminine in close-ups, but this hardly matters. The trio of ladies is perfectly rounded off by Miah Persson's beautiful and adorable Sophie. The presentation of the rose in Act 2 is exquisitely sung and acted by Kirschlager and Persson, and is quite moving in one of the most beautiful scenes in all of opera.
Baron Ochs, a very deep bass role, is not quite encompassed so successfully by Franz Hawlata. The low notes, as at the end of Act 2, are a stretch for this basically bass-baritone voice but he manages them and he's a fine actor and is very funny at all times, fully alive to every nuance of the text. The balance of the supporting cast is top drawer. The stage direction is not too fussy and the action of the principals is subtle and intelligently executed.
The camera work does not jump around too much but focuses mostly on the full stage, showing the beautiful sets, especially Faninal's grand hall in Act 2. There are close-ups but not so close that you see spit flying from the singers' mouths or veins popping out on their necks or anything like that. If you're not a seasoned opera watcher you won't understand what this means. The ease with which these singers sing makes for very comfortable viewing in that respect.
If you're a collector of filmed opera and 'Der Rosenkavalier' is one of your favorites then I recommend you adding this one to your collection. It's a keeper and one I'll watch again and again when I'm in the mood and have the time. It's a long opera, though not as long as most Wagner, but it takes time to get through. It can also be tiring to read surtitles for 3+ hours, but we have the wonderful 'pause' button to alleviate eyeball fatigue.
If you think you are not an opera fan this is a good opera to start with in spite of its length. The music is glorious and full of hummable tunes. Productions like this are the kind of thing that creates opera fans.
I don't know any opera lovers who are not also film buffs. I think that there may be many more film buffs who could become opera fans by watching excellent live productions caught on celluloid, like this one.
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