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Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
20 May 2011

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in Der Rosenkavalier

Classic films often receive the honor of a full “restoration,” especially when a new viewing format appears.

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

The Marschallin: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf; Octavian: Sena Jurinac; Sophie: Anneliese Rothenberger; Baron Ochs: Otto Edlelmann. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kultur D4684 [DVD]

$37.99 (Blu-Ray)  Click to buy

The companies behind the product get another marketing opportunity, and the fans get the chance to see a beloved work of art in a state-of-the-art reproduction.

Such seems to be the promise behind a recent Kultur release of a “restored & remastered” version of Paul Czinner’s classic 1962 film of Der Rosenkavalier, from the Salzburg Festival, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and a superlative cast: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin, Sena Jurinac in the title role, Anneliese Rotherberger as Sophie and Otto Edlelmann as Baroc Ochs.

As compared to a drab VHS version your reviewer saw some years ago, this DVD version does indeed have sharper colors and adequate sound. However, the film quality still shows its age, and audiophiles have no special reason to rejoice. The chief advantage of this new version is the addition of subtitles — that VHS version had none. Kultur does retain the synopses that begin each act, which have a certain historic charm, although the subtitles make them superfluous. The review copy offers nothing else — a one page track listing is the only thing provided in place of a booklet.

In the end, any disappointment provoked by the above state of affairs is washed away in the glory of this impeccably classy and traditional performance. The opera of composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal has depths and dark corners unexamined in this lovely 1962 presentation, and so we can be thankful for some of the more successful non-traditional productions of Der Rosenkavalier seen in recent years. Still, charm is not a negligible quality, and charm of one sort or another smiles out of almost every frame of this film.

Kultur has Schwarzkopf’s Marchallin as the cover, and she does dominate act one and the closing segment of act three. The voice undoubtedly had more plushness in earlier years, but ameliorating that loss is the mature wisdom of her understated portrayal. She knows this is no longer a stage performance, and she lets her eyes provide the acting. When she gathers her gown and departs after the trio, her visage from behind has more dramatic force than many performers manage facing the audience. Sena Jurinac neither sings nor acts convincingly as a male adolescent, but in the fairy-tale aspect of this work, her Octavian fits right in. In a role that be too cutesy by half, Annelise Rothenberger as Sophie earns our love along with Octavian’s, although one might wish for just a bit more security in the very highest notes. Otto Edelmann’s is a classically crude and obnoxious Ochs, which does make act three feel long until his disappearance (despite the fact that it is cut already). His epic last note at the end of act two won’t satisfy those who want the walls to reverberate with low vibrations, but he gets it out.

Herbert von Karajan loved to be filmed conducting, but there director Czinner keeps the camera on the stage, excepting, of course, the opening instrumental passages. Amusingly enough, Karajan does get the final bow.

So while this may not be the truest, most rewarding “restoration and remastering” imaginable, anything that puts this film on the market again deserves our thanks. Thank you, Kultur!

Chris Mullins


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