Back in 1961 Paul Czinner decided to experiment with filming a live opera performance. He chose the 1961 Salzburg Festival production of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. I guess it got a theatrical release in the day then more or less disappeared, popping up up from time to time in a rather poor quality ‘Pan and Scan’ VHS version. Now it’s been digitally restored from a 35mm print and released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Kultur. It’s spectacular. It looks like early 1960s 35mm colour and it sounds like early 1960s analogue stereo. Very impressive. Like watching Il Gattopardo while listening to a recording by John Culshaw or Walter Legge.
So much for the technical details. What about the performance? What can I say? It’s as near perfect as I can imagine. All the principal singers are excellent. Otto Edelmann manages to be both stylish and appropriately revolting as Baron Ochs. Anneliese Rothenberger is a radiant Sophie. Serena Jurinac as Octavian sings beautifully and manages, visually, all the variants as man dressed as woman acting like a man etc with great aplomb. Then there is the Marschallin of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. It is, of course, one of the two roles she was born to sing and she is utterly transcendent. She sings with a complete mastery of tone, phrasing and diction. Both the first act monologue and the final trio are heart breaking. It simply doesn’t get better. Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic who, of course, have this music encoded in their DNA. It’s a thrilling orchestral performance.
Sets and costumes are lavish and traditional without descending into Zeffirelli kitsch which is about perfect for this piece. Besides being well sung, it’s well acted. The idea that 50 years ago singers walked to centre stage and did their thing is totally given the lie here. It’s as dynamic as anything todays directors could dream up.