Der Rosenkavalier is an opera of deceit, disguises, crass comedy and deep philosophical reflections. The story is ostensibly well-rooted in 18th-century Vienna: there are many references to Viennese locations and to the empress Marie Theresa. However, deception is also present in Strauss’ music, with its use of Viennese waltzes, typical of the late 19th century, as a leitmotiv for the comedic moments. This time shift in the music is reflected in much deeper time shifts in Loy’s production, where the imagery, the settings and the costumes vary from 1740 to the present day.

Adrian Angelico (Octavian) © Sara Strandlund
Adrian Angelico (Octavian)
© Sara Strandlund

The 18th century traditional costumes were used to represent yet another deception: the characters wore them when engaged in the performance of standardized social functions. They wore modern clothes only when they were representing their “real” selves. In Act Two, when Octavian tells Sophie that to confront her father and refuse the marriage she should “remain what she is” (und bleiben, was sie ist), she walks out of her sparkling Rococo dress and stands barefoot in a simple white slip.

In Act One, Octavian and the Feldmarschallin were almost always far away from each other, never touching. This turned their post-lovemaking into a cold, aloof scene, with no sense of passion. Maids and valets were constantly crossing the scene or standing on the side, removing any sense of intimacy between the two lovers. The contrast with the music was striking and alienating.

Sara Olsson (Marianne Leitmetzerin) and Elin Rombo (Sophie) © Sara Strandlund
Sara Olsson (Marianne Leitmetzerin) and Elin Rombo (Sophie)
© Sara Strandlund

The second act, however, was visually spectacular. The presentation of the rose saw Sophie and Octavian in shimmering traditional costumes. For Sophie’s fiancé’s arrival, Loy imagined a full Baroque theatre (Drottningholm?), with perspective scenery representing clouds and machinery lowering Baron Ochs as a Deus ex machina, wearing a glamorous costume crowned with a feathered headpiece.

The third act was set in a brothel instead of the traditional inn. The location was dismal, sordid – full of all sorts of people who were displayed, bought and sold. Octavian, dressed as “Mariandel”, wore a very short skirt and a shiny gold top that was mirrored in the outfits of several imposing, muscular choir members, who were playing the “ghosts” terrorizing Baron Ochs. As implausible as the Feldmarschallin visiting a brothel looked, this setting did confer some honesty to the events of Act Three and to the intentions of Baron Ochs.

Malin Byström (Feldmarschallin) © Sara Strandlund
Malin Byström (Feldmarschallin)
© Sara Strandlund

The Royal Swedish Orchestra was at ease in Strauss’ music; their performance was enthusiastic, and their sound was rich and voluptuous. Alan Gilbert conducted with care and nuance, managing to extract subtleties from the musicians and supporting the singers in every attack. At the beginning of Act One, the sound from the pit seemed almost too expressive, with a tendency to overpower the singers. This was quickly corrected, and Gilbert found a perfect balance for the rest of the performance.

Malin Byström returned to Stockholm as the Feldmarschallin, confirming her status as one of the greatest operatic singers today. Her natural elegance was perfectly suited to the confident aristocrat; the rich colour palette of her voice managed to convey all the different emotions and moods of the complex character. Her youthful looks helped enliven a Feldmarschallin closer to the age imagined by Strauss (32); seeing her as a young woman shifted the perception of her musings about the passage of time and gave a different perception of her acceptance of Octavian’s betrayal and abandonment.

Wilhelm Schwinghammer (Baron Ochs) and Marie-Louise Granström (Annina) © Sara Strandlund
Wilhelm Schwinghammer (Baron Ochs) and Marie-Louise Granström (Annina)
© Sara Strandlund

Octavian was Adrian Angelico, whose warm, powerful mezzo was well-suited to the role of Octavian. His top was brilliant and very smooth, while the lower register lacked strength at times. Overall, his performance was impressive: he was believable as a teenager in love, his voice full of enthusiasm, his passionate outbursts always perfectly supported by a solid technique. Wilhelm Schwinghammer, as Baron Ochs, gave life to an appropriately uncouth and rude country aristocrat. His musical delivery was elegant, even when his character wasn’t. Elin Rombo was a successful Sophie, her soprano featured beautiful filati and a solid top register. Her interpretation of the young, innocent girl was believable and enjoyable.

Among the many supporting characters, Aled Hall and Marie-Louise Granström deserve a mention as the comical couple Valzacchi and Annina. Their acting was suitably funny, and their musical delivery was convincing. Loy used the Italian singer scene for a successful coup de théâtre – the Feldmarschallin receives a letter, and as she reads it, the “Italian singer” (Klas Hedlund, with a powerful tenor) sings his beautiful aria: he clearly represents her next lover. Life goes on for the Feldmarschallin.

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