STRAUSS, R.: Der Rosenkavalier
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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Richard Strauss was the most significant Germanoperatic composer after Richard Wagner and one of themost influential in this genre during the first twodecades of the twentieth century. His operas Salome(1905) and Elektra (1909) initially shockedconservative opera audiences with their supposedlyobscene treatment of biblical and classical subjects. Hisnext opera, Der Rosenkavalier, to a libretto by Hugovon Hoffmansthal, in what was to be the second of theircollaborations, was a radical change in both characterand musical language. It would be a 'burlesque opera inthree acts', later revised to read 'comedy with music'. Itwas as if Strauss, now aged 47, had decided to turnaway from the raw intensity and dramatic fervour of thetwo earlier operas by moving backwards to a genial,more conservative look back at Viennese life at the endof the eighteenth century. The young lion had now castoff his radical youth.
The new opera was a great triumph for bothcomposer and librettist at its Dresden premi?â?¿re on 26thJanuary 1911, thanks in no small part to the producer,Max Reinhardt, and within a very short time moved intothe repertoire of the world's principal opera-houses,where it is has remained. Within the first year DerRosenkavalier was given in Berlin, Vienna and Milan,and, two years later, in London and New York. Straussemploys a huge orchestra of 112 instruments, includingnineteen for an on-stage ensemble in the third act, butthe opera exemplifies the composer's desire to write a'Mozart' opera in which the blending of innocentyouthful lovers is contrasted with high and low aspectsof Viennese life. As a conductor Strauss was consideredone of the great Mozart conductors of his time, as can bewitnessed from his recordings of certain of thecomposer's symphoniesInterestingly, Strauss composed the three principalr?â??les for three sopranos and bass. (The r?â??le of Oktaviancan be and is now regularly sung by a mezzo-soprano.)The tenor voice is given slight attention except for thesmall part of the Italian Tenor in Act One. The r?â??le ofthe Feldmarschallin is one of the most challenginginterpretatively in the German repertoire, as she is onstage for whole of the first act. Furthermore Straussstated the woman was to be young and beautiful, only32 years old, but in a bad mood, thinking of herself as'old'. The young lovers Octavian and Sophie are in theirlate teens, while the Marschallin's country-bred cousinOchs, a rustic beau of 35. He is not a disgusting, vulgarmonster, and is, after all, a member of the gentry.
Strauss later commented that the whole is 'Viennesecomedy, not Berlin farce'.
The Decca Record Company had begun recordingcomplete operas in Vienna in June 1950, beginning withMozart's Die Entf?â??hrung aus dem Serail under JosefKrips. During the following years various other operaticprojects were undertaken with varying success. Theyear 1954, however, was significant with two operas byRichard Strauss being recorded, Salome under ClemensKrauss in March and Der Rosenkavalier under ErichKleiber in June. A total of 22 sessions were set aside forthe latter between 29th May and 28th June. Other purelyorchestral recordings with the Vienna Philharmonicunder both Bohm and Kubelik, however, were also to beundertaken during this period. Decca's Artistic DirectorMaurice Rosengarten had negotiated with theauthorities at the Staatsoper that the singers he wantedwould be those currently used in the then currentproduction. It was wisely decided that the recordingwould be complete, the first time this had occurred.
Victor Olof, Decca's senior recording producer inLondon, who had been in charge of all the Company'sactivities in Vienna since 1950, would be in overallcharge of the project with one of his new assistants,James Walker, alongside. The principal engineer wouldbe Cyril Windebank with Jack Law as his assistant. Thiswould be the single largest project undertaken by Deccato date in Vienna, and as it so happened, the last purelymono-only operatic recording to be made by theCompany in the Austrian capital, then still under Alliedoccupation.
The r?â??le of the Marschallin was taken by theViennese-born soprano Maria Reining (1903-1971).
Originally she had planned a career in banking butbegan studying singing in her native city after the age of25. Making her debut at the Staatsoper as a soubrette in1931, the soprano later moved to Darmstadt (1933-35)before joining the Staatsoper in Munich in 1935 for twoyears. Returning to Vienna, she would continue singingregularly at the Staatsoper until 1958. She appeared atthe Salzburg Festival between 1937 and 1941 as Eva(Meistersinger) under Toscanini, Euryanthe, Elisabeth(Tannhauser) and the Countess (Figaro). She returnedto that festival in 1947 in the title-r?â??le of Arabella in1947, followed two years later as the Marschallin, a r?â??leshe would repeat in 1953. Her overseas appearanceswere restricted to Covent Garden in 1938 singing Elsa(Lohengrin) and in Chicago later that same year as Evaand Butterfly. Her Marschallin graced the Parisian stagein 1949, the year in which she appeared in New York atthe City Center Opera, again in the Rosenkavalier r?â??leand as Ariadne. She was an admired artist with a wellschooledvoice allied to an elegant and aristocratic stagemanner.
Her Octavian is the Jugoslav-born Austrian sopranoSena (Srebrencka) Jurinac (born 1921). After study atthe Music Academy in Zagreb she made her debut inthat city as Mim?â?¼ in La Boh?â?¿me in 1942, joining theVienna State Opera in 1945 when she appeared in thefirst post-war performance singing Cherubino in Figarounder Josef Krips. Her Salzburg Festival debut tookplace in 1947, the year she also first appeared in Londonwith the visiting Vienna Company. The following yearJurinac sang Dorabella in Cos?â?¼ fan tutte withGlyndebourne Opera at the Edinburgh Festival, whichcreated a very considerable impression. She alsoappeared at La Scala, Milan as Cherubino. From 1951-56 she sang all the principal Mozart r?â??les atGlyndebourne, recording both the Countess in Figaroand Ilia in Idomeneo. Jurinac sang Oktavian in theopening performance at the new Grosser Festspielhausin 1960 at Salzburg under Karajan, a r?â??le she laterrecorded on film. She appeared regularly in Londonbetween 1959 and 1963 singing Leonore in Fidelio inKlemperer's production of the opera in 1961. HerAmerican debut was in the title r?â??le of MadamaButterfly in San Francisco in 1959. Sena Jurinac wasgenerally considered one of the outstanding artists ofher time when her r?â??les also included Marzelline inFidelio, the two Donne (Anna and Elvira) in DonGiovanni, Fiordiligi in Cos?â?¼ fan tutte, Elisabeth in DonCarlos and Tannhauser, Jenu?é??fa, Desdemona in Otelloand Marie in Wozzeck. After retiring from singing shelater gave a series of master-classes in a variety ofEuropean cities, including London.
The Viennese-born soprano Hilde Gueden (1918-1988) was cast as Sophie. She studied singing (withWeztelsberger) in addition to piano and dancing at hernative Music Academy, soon appearing at the city'sVolksoper in a small r?â??le in Robert Stolz's operettaServus, servus in 1935. She later sang Cherubino inZurich in 1939 and two years later was engaged by theconductor Clemens Krauss in Munich. It was here thatshe first sang Sophie, suggested to her by the composer,before appearing in Rome in an Italian languageproduction under Tullio Serafin. After singing Zerlinain Don Giovanni at the 1946 Salzburg Festival, Guedenjoined the Vienna State Opera later that year. She firstsang in London with the visiting Vienna Company thefollowing year. Her American debut took place in 1951at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, as Gildain Rigoletto, returning over the ensuing nine seasons asSusanna, Zdenka, Sophie, Anne Truelove, Mim?â?¼,Mica?â?½la