Carlos Kleiber didn’t record much despite enjoying something of a cult following as a conductor. In 1994, shortly before his death, he conducted four performances of Der Rosenkavalier at the Wiener Staatsoper; the first of which was recorded. It’s clearly Kleiber’s night. His appearances at the start of each act are greeted with cheers and wild applause. One can only guess at the reception he got afterwards because the curtain calls don’t make it onto the recording. And, yes, it is a masterly conducting performance with fine support for the singers, beautifully shaped lines and an infectious sense of fun.
This performance also has pretty much as fine a cast as 1994 could muster. Felicity Lott is wonderful Marschallin. her voice is just the right weight and her portrayal of a woman of a certain age is masterly. It’s reminiscent of her Belle Helène while being obviously quite different. Anne Sofie von Otter is Octavian. It’s a traditional type of performance; finely sung but the acting is a bit “opera house stilted”. I think that’s what the director wanted but I find it a little broad, especially in the Mariandel scenes. Curiously von Otter’s Viennese dialect, which doesn’t sound paricularly broad to my not especially well attuned ear, is rendered in the sub title in something between stage Cockney and Mummerset; “bein’ as ‘ow oi’m a good gel” sort of thing. Barbara Bonney is a very appealing and carefully characterised Sophie. She can go from aspiring sophisticate to enraged bourgeois schoolgirl in a flash. Kurt Moll does as much as one reasonably can with Ochs. It’s a more than decent ensemble performance by very fine singers.
The staging is, we are told, “based on a stage production by Otto Schenk”. I take this to mean the designs are his but the revival was directed by some, uncredited, staffer. Anyway it’s typical Schenk. It’s set in the 1740s and everything happens, literally, by the book. The designs; sets and costumes, are detailed and sumptuous. In places it’s a bit over the top. In the “presentation” scene, for example, Octavian appears to be accompanied by a squad of Albanian cavalry. The banker’s wife in the Salzburg King Arthur would most definitely approve. Anyone who thinks that frequently played classics need a less uncritical approach will likely be disappointed.
Technically this is very good for the era. The picture is showing its age a bit but isn’t bad for the era and the LPCM stereo sound is perfectly acceptable. The picture seems to have been recorded in 16:9 format and then “hard letterboxed” to 4:3 on the video disk release. On a widescreen this means it presents with black bars top and bottom and at the sides. DG may have fixed this later though the current cstalogue number is the same as on my library copy. The video direction, by Horant H. Hohlfeld, is fairly unobtrusive though he seems to get a bit carried away in the Act 3 trio where we start to get fades and superpositions and cutting away to Kleiber in the pit. There are no extras and documentation is fairly basic. There are German, English, French, Spanish and Chinese subtitles.