Rosenkavalier on the brink

Robert Carsen’s 2004 production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Salzburg Festival was apparently enormously controversial at the time.  In many ways that says more about the iconic status of the piece in Salzburg tradition than about Carsen’s production.  There are a few controversial elements.  He has updated the period to 1914 and the third act is set in a brothel with a fair amount of nudity.  Beyond that, the production is pretty faithful to the libretto and has, I think characteristic Carsen touches like long lines of tables and chairs and a certain geometric elegance.  He seems to be using the sides of the stage to comment on the action which tends to be fixed centre stage.  I say seems because the video direction (by Brian Large) is utterly perverse and makes it extraordinarily difficult to see what Carsen is doing, let alone decode it.  We see the whole stage, maybe, for three seconds in the whole piece.  Otherwise 99% of what we get is either close up and even closer up or apparently shot from the restricted view seats high up and close to the side of the stage.  The other 1% is just plain nuts and includes a section of the Sophie/Octavian duet in Act 2 where, on stage, Octavian is maybe twenty feet to Sophie’s right but on camera he’s standing right up close on her left hand side.  I could go on but I won’t.  Suffice it to say the video direction comes close to wrecking an otherwise excellent DVD.

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