Funnier, sadder and more engaging – Rosenkavalier

Last night we had the immense privilege of being guests at Glyndebourne Opera House ( and, for a wonder, the weather was perfect too. (For friends across the world I should mention that Glyndebourne is a top-level, top-quality opera house set in the middle of rural English countryside, where it is traditional to picnic during the long interval, in full evening dress, in the beautiful grounds. Sorry, only a few old photos, as most of mine have identifiable people in them.).


The opera, Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss, walks a tricky tightrope between tragedy and comedy. It is usually played glamourous, melancholy and decadent, as the beautiful, older aristocratic woman courageously relinquishes her youthful lover to a younger woman, interrupted by the boorish antics of the suitor to the younger woman, usually a caricature elderly buffoon.

Last night’s production by Richard Jones shakes up this tradition. The costumes bounce between 18th and 20th century and the direction is equally bewildering. In the first interval I overheard opera-goers complaining. Yet somehow this weird take on the story drags the tragedy and comedy face-to-face. This results in a funnier, sadder and more engaging story. By the end of the opera, the audience were stomping and clapping enthusiastically.

Musically, I heard no doubts expressed. The singers, orchestra and conductor were sublime. Personally, as an unashamed lover of the Italian Romantic repertoire, I find the long, soaring lines of Strauss a little like being force-fed meringues, but this production, by pulling the dramatic threads together, has brought me closer to appreciating the music.

I don’t have a silver rose to hand, but this allium shubertii after a rainstorm has a silvery look to it.

allium Shubertii

allium Shubertii

As we drove home after the opera, the sky was pretty dramatic too.

20 thoughts on “Funnier, sadder and more engaging – Rosenkavalier

  1. No opera hall nearby, but we do have the Britt Festival where we go in the summer to sit out under the stars and listen to classical music as well popular performers. You bring a picnic and wine to enjoy during the performance. One year my daughter and I sat through a rainstorm. The audience was amazing. Everyone was passing around wine. 🙂 –Curt

  2. Now, Hilary ! – you know you should’ve added to your description of Glyndebourne something along the lines of “produces opera that never falls into the well-known categories, and is often experimental, usually slightly weird” ! [grin]
    OKOK, I admit it: Glydebourne would never be for me. I love Verdi and Puccini and Mascagni and Donizetti and Boito and Giordano and Berlioz, and all of ’em like that ! 😀

    • I’m with you. Verdi comes top with Donizetti, Puccini, Bellini, Gounod, some Massenet, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Rossini in small doses. Glyndebourne does all of these too (L’Elisir, Macbeth, Otello, Traviata, Bohême, Falstaff and we have Onegin coming up) but I have seen more experimental modern and ancient opera there than anywhere else. This is mostly because we get taken by a very enterprising lady. When we buy our own tickets we tend to pick the Italian romantics.

  3. I do envy you Glyndebourne. I have been to the opera quite frequently but never made it there. My taste is more aligned with M.R.’s but I do think the ambience would win me over whatever was on the menu. And I can scrub up ok still if pushed. Maybe one day….

    • Our’s is the same as M-Rs too – actually my husband is getting quite keen on Strauss – but I have found myself beguiled by some unlikely productions there, and they do put on the the old favourites too. The happy picnickers are one of the funniest and most delightful sights. We have done both the full candelabra and napkins version and the sandwiches on a rug.

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed this production. I saw one many years ago and can’t remember a thing about it.

    I have some books of interest on the shelf, two of which get us closer to what Strauss was like.
    Richard Strauss and Romain Rolland (correspondence, diary and essays). Rolland liked Strauss’s music a lot, though not uncritically, and was very explanatory when Strauss asked him daft questions about what we could call French ‘melodie’. I love this book.

    Then there is ‘The Correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.’ This is a weighty tome, and it’s a while since I’ve read it, but one thing stood out for me at the time. Von Hofmannsthal was much more intellectual than Strauss (not too difficult, some might say) yet Strauss was often right when they disagreed. Von H was very eloquent in justifying the conclusion of Ariadne auf Naxos, but it gave Strauss no end of trouble, as we can plainly hear. The ending was too conceptual, and Strauss needed flesh and blood to make it work. Despite his best efforts, he didn’t get it.

    As for Michael Kennedy’s book in the Master Musicians series, it has to be read in the awareness it is written by an enthusiast. Die Liebe der Danae is not a good opera, much though the composer and Kennedy liked it.

    Of the operas I have heard, I like Daphne most.

    Love the allium shubertii.

  5. Loved the sentence: “I find the long, soaring lines of Strauss a little like being force-fed meringues.”
    Otherwise I’m glad you found the performance of Rosenkavalier a positive experience. It’s my favorite opera along with Tristan and Carmen. The photos of the countryside setting of Glyndebourne reminds me a bit of Bayreuth, where I was most fortunate to visit last year, but alas didn’t get to attend any operas as I was there in April.
    Here in NM we have the Santa Fe opera up the road but I don’t go very often: I’m not so fond of their choices of repertoire.

    • That’s quite a mixture – Strauss, Wagner and Bizet. I always imagine I will arrive at Strauss and Wagner towards the end of my life (which could of course be anytime soon). Tristan I love. I saw it twice in one week at Covent Garden in the 1970’s and it put me in a trance. On the whole though, Carmen is more my kind of music. We visited Santa Fe, but sadly not during their season, they probably do our kind of Italian Romantic. I find, as I get older, I’m prepared to give most opera a go if the singers are good.

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