Celine Byrne and Paula Murrihy in INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond **** Operas can be long. Like Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss , with German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, first performed in 1911. A comic opera about lovers, lust and longing. Conservatively clocking in at four hours fifteen minutes (allowing for two intermissions) Irish National Opera’s production might have purists declaring it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Non-purists might argue even marathon runners want to get home sometime, with most looking for a respectable finish of around two hours. Plus, marathons are for masochists who enjoy pain when endured in a blur of semi-consciousness. Like an audience at an overly long opera. Andreas Bauer Kanabas and cast INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond
The problem, in this instance, isn’t the opera, it’s the analogy. Rather than a race, Der Rosenkavalier is more a long weekend when there’s nothing you need to do. Something you ease into. Like a spa day with really good cocktails, and a lounger by the pool as the sun shines in a cloudless sky. An experience to be enjoyed, not endured. To be savoured, sipped, and surrendered to. Opulent, sumptuous, and unapologetically romantic, Der Rosenkavalier is less likely to blister your feet so much set your heart soaring. A heart mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy will warm, soprano Claudia Boyle steal, and soprano Celine Byrne break into a million gorgeous pieces. Three of Ireland's greatest singers shining in Irish National Opera’s stunning production. Celine Byrne and Paula Murrihy in INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond Narratively, it’s a straightforward, complicated operatic affair. Cougar Marschallin (Byrne), in the most flattering use of the term, is regal Princess of Werdenberg. With her youthful lover Count Octavian (Murrihy, splendid in this trouser role), Marschallin resorts to desperate measures to conceal their illicit affair when surprised by Baron Ochs (bass Andreas Bauer Kanabas). Tarted in tartan like an oversized leprechaun, the aristocratic Ochs gatecrashes the Princess's bedroom to beseech her help in proposing to the lovely Sophie (Boyle). A young woman he desires as a Barbie styled trophy wife whose parent’s new money he aims to secure via their arranged marriage; the clash of old aristocracy and the new bourgeoisie an underlying theme. Hurriedly dressing as the Princess’s chambermaid Mariandel, Octavian finds the Baron’s roving eyes and roving hands like to rove in his disguised direction, even as the lusty Baron expresses devotion to his future wife. This being enough to send the Princess spiralling into regret about her age, the youthfulness of Octavian, and the belief he will tire of her soon. In an effort to be rid of the Baron, the Princess offers Octavian as his Knight of the Rose, (hence the opera's title) to present Sophie with a rose on her betrothed’s behalf. But love, like a mischievous Cupid (a cute Ethan O’Connor) likes to play games. Like making Octavian and Sophie fall in love. Leaving them needing to find a way to break her pending engagement and, possibly, the heart of the Princess, while also ensuring the Baron receives his comeuppance. Samuel Dale Johnson, Celine Byrne, Paula Murrihy & Claudia Boyle in INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond Under Bruno Ravella’s direction, a Chaplinesque marriage of humour and pathos is aimed for but doesn’t quite get there, with pace occassionaly dragging as a result. Like a poorly told joke, all the comic elements are present, but too often they don’t land effectively. Baron Ochs being a case in point. A classic silent movie villain, Ochs’ comic potential is insufficiently exploited, his big reveal at the end of Act Two highlighting the fun that could have been, even as Kanabas’s singing is superb. Soprano Rachel Croash and baritone Samuel Dale Johnson far more comedically successful as Sophie’s parents, as are the dancing waiters. As is Boyle, who shows exquisite comic timing. Yet if humour proves inconsistent, more comic in idea than execution, Ravella proves a master at unearthing the pathos at the heart of von Hofmannsthal superb libretto. Performances by Byrne, Boyle and Murrihy sending hearts soaring and swooning, adding more fuel to a fabulous emotional fire. Andreas Bauer Kanabas and cast INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond
Musically, Strauss’ lush score marries the sweep of the cinematic with the intimacy of a waltz. Thrilling, toying, tugging at heart strings, music performed by the Irish National Opera Orchestra, under conductor Fergus Shiel, almost upstages singing at times. Yet when Byrne, Boyle and Murrihy sing, you understand why Der Rosenkavalier's use of three women is prized so highly. It could easily go awry, or worse, prove lacklustre. Here, singing and performances are utterly superb; "Marie Theres’!/Hab' mir's gelobt” at the end of Act Three allowing Byrne, Boyle and Murrihy's layered voices to take you high, wide and deep into the experience. Murrihy’s singing soaring like prayer. Boyle's sublime voice as wide and full as the ocean. Byrne's full blooded incanations plumbing emotional depths as deep as time, made so much more for Byrne physically doing little yet achieving so much. All three voices overflowing with soul. Each singer, throughout, crafting moments where time seems to stand still. INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond If Strauss doesn’t skimp on romance, Gary McCann’s set and costumes never skimp on the extravagant. Set being an architecturally visual feast. It's mute colour palate (apart from its set within a set in the third act) offering a neutral backdrop against which McCann’s colourful costumes, classically cut, stand out. Hindered as much as helped by Malcolm Rippeth’s hit and miss lights, which shape mood and establish motifs beautifully, including illuminating a pink rose on the ceiling. Yet also create far too much shadow on too many occasions, suggesting issues beyond opening night jitters. Paula Murrihy & Celine Byrne in INO's Der Rosenkavalier. Image Pat Redmond Scandal, tabloids, illicit love affairs and lusting villains, Der Rosenkavalier’s operatic aims might seem closer to daytime soap opera than serious drama, but beneath the glamour and fun are heartfelt portrayals of the complicated affairs of the heart. Joyous, generous, giving life its fullness, love, like INO's Der Rosenkavalier , can often take your breath away. As do Byrne, Boyle and Murrihy who, together, make Der Rosenkavalier a memorable operatic experience.
Der Rosenkavalie r by Richard Strauss, with German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, presented by Irish National Opera in a co-production with Garsington Opera and Santa Fe Opera, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre March 5, 7, 9 and 11. For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.