Returning to English National Opera for the first time since its 2008 London debut, David McVicar’s affectionate period production of Der Rosenkavalier (first staged by Scottish Opera) now boasts its best cast yet. Richard Strauss wrote more grateful female roles than any other opera composer, and Rosenkavalier boasts three of his greatest - each sung superbly here. Amanda Roocroft, subtle, poignant and in beautiful voice, is perfect for the Marschallin - no other soprano today is better suited to the role. Sarah Connolly’s Octavian bounds with virile young passion, and Sophie Bevan’s effortlessly creamy top notes are to die for. They blend immaculately too, nowhere more so than in the heavenly final trio. Strauss’s failure to check the opera’s bloated length - its one major flaw - meant each was showing slight signs of tiredness by this stage, but this could not shake the emotional power of a sublime performance.
Sarah Connolly (Octavian) and John Tomlinson (Baron Ochs Of Lerchenau) in Der Rosenkavalier at the London Coliseum Photo: Tristram Kenton
McVicar does not overplay the piece’s comedy. The middle of Act 1 drags somewhat as a result, but the laughs in Acts 2 and 3 feel genuine. The understated approach, concentrating on bittersweet reflection, is rewarding. Key to its success is the superb acting abilities of the principal cast. The women deliver captivating, nuanced portrayals and John Tomlinson is a towering presence as the crass Baron Ochs - a plausible, even sympathetic, human being rather than buffoonish caricature. It is great to hear his cavernous velvet tones in relatively relaxed lyricism (rather than bellowing Wotan mode) - every word is clear.
Edward Gardner’s idiomatic music direction conjures sumptuous sounds from the pit (the Act 2 waltz is deliciously swoony). McVicar’s own lavish set, which gently parodies 18th century opulence, satisfyingly compliments this emotionally engaging production.