First published in The Herald on 23 May, 2014
Richard Jones’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this week, several prominent opening-night reviews included negative comments about the body shape of the mezzo-soprano playing Octavian (Tara Erraught). A media storm ensued, with cries of chauvinism from the singing world and defensive retaliation from some of the critics. The affair even earned its own Twitter hashtag: #taragate.
And so Robin Ticciati’s debut as Glyndebourne’s new music director came and went under a bizarre fracas. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal is the seventh conductor to hold the position in the house’s esteemed 80-year history. With its luxuriously long rehearsal periods and familial atmosphere, it should suit him to a T; no doubt #taragate was what he least expected in his first week on the job.
There is an irony here, in that Strauss’s opera deals in prejudice and superficiality. The odious Baron Ochs (Lars Woldt) flagrantly objectifies young Sophie (Teodora Gheorghiu) as he eyes her up for marriage â€“ â€œit’s like horse-trading,â€ she fumes. Jones’s slick production is laced with surreality: ghoulish masks, vaudeville choreography, Paul Steinberg’s sets of dizzyingly oversized prints, nouveau-rich bling and brash rococo. It looks great, but the opera’s tender heart gets lost in the mix.
The cast is impressive, particularly Kate Royal’s wistful, silvery-voiced Marschallin. Erraught has a beautiful voice for Octavian â€“ warm, light, supple â€“ but she doesn’t clinch role. This has nothing to do with her figure (which, incidentally, is perfectly healthy-looking); she simply doesn’t act with quite enough charisma. Meanwhile Ticciati conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra devotedly, fluently, with poised waltzes, playful skittishness and diligent support for the singers. A roar of cheers went up on Wednesday night as he took his bow.