Prom 24 – Anne Evans Farewell

Die Liebe der Danae – Symphonic Fragment
An den Baum Daphne *
Der Rosenkavalier – excerpts

The Marschallin – Dame Anne Evans
Octavian – Katarina Karnéus
Sophie – Rebecca Evans

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

BBC Singers *
Choristers of King’s College, Cambridge *
Stephen Cleobury *

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 5 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

After Johann Strauss the night before, this prom moved to the rather different music of Richard Strauss. He never saw his penultimate opera, Die Liebe der Danae, in full performance – the Salzburg premiere was cancelled by Goebbels after the dress rehearsal at which Strauss was present. The Symphonic Fragment, arranged by the conductor Clemens Krauss, who led the official (posthumous) premiere in 1952, begins with tempestuous music from Act Two. Most of the ’fragment’ is drawn from Act Three, incorporating parts of the autumnal mid-act intermezzo and the themes of the resigned separation between Danae and Jupiter. This is Strauss’s equivalent to the parting of Brünnhilde and Wotan at the end of Die Walküre, and can be very moving on stage as relatively recent productions in Munich and Garsington have shown.

Under Sir Charles Mackerras the BBC Symphony Orchestra relished the tumultuous beginning, depicting Jupiter’s anger – raspy horns and brass and shrieking woodwind – with evident enthusiasm and then settled into some wonderfully measured and elegiac playing for the romantic ideas that followed – marvellous string playing! The extracts from the Intermezzo were very persuasive, reminding that this was composed at around the same time as the Four Last Songs.

After a bit of stage re-setting, the BBCSO disappearing, the King’s College Choristers and BBC Singers under Stephen Cleobury delivered a performance of An den Baum Daphne. This was Strauss’s original choral plan for the end of his opera Daphne. While it is interesting to hear occasionally, it does demonstrate that first ideas are not always the best! It slightly outstays its welcome. However, the performance was a good one although the high vocal lines were not always ideally floated, at least at the start. The choral sound was full and varied and the interweaving solo treble and soprano interjections at the end were nicely delivered.

We were then on more familiar territory with Der Rosenkavalier, with major chunks from each of the acts chosen by Sir Charles, 70 minutes’ worth, involving the three principal ladies voices. Dame Anne Evans was singing the Marschallin and had announced on radio earlier in the week that this was to be her final public performance. Given that many of the Marschallin’s musings are about the passage of time and farewell to things past, this was a carefully and beautifully chosen farewell vehicle.

The first excerpt was from the start of the opera where the Marschallin and her young lover Octavian are found in bed after a night of passion. Mackerras, excellent Straussian that he is, favoured relatively fast tempi here and throughout, the orchestra responding with some vivid and descriptive playing! Katarina Karnéus was the tall and youthful Octavian, singing most ardently and with rich and “masculine” tone – I long to hear her sing the full role. A minimum of operatic body language characterised the performances of all three ladies and the wonderful text was used to full advantage.

After this introduction we had an extended passage from the end of Act One with the Marschallin’s soliloquy on growing up. Dame Anne Evans delivered both this and the subsequent passage about stopping the clocks in the middle of the night most movingly. Her voice is still in such good condition, despite singing all that Wagner – one wonders why she has decided to stop singing! She has always brought a confident and winning femininity to all her characterisations and her warm, mellow voice and supreme musicality has been her hallmark for many a year. And so it was here.

After the ’Presentation of the Rose’, introducing us to the sparky Sophie of Rebecca Evans – some exquisite pianissimo high notes – we moved to the famous trio and final duet. This is wonderful and overtly emotional music at the best of times, and here was more so as Anne Evans sang her final moments. Tempi were on the moderate side – how preferable to the overblown and over-slow tempi adopted by so many conductors. Wisely Dame Anne eschewed the final “Ja, Ja” in the absence of Herr von Faninal, and so her last words were “In Gottes Namen”. After a lovely final duet between Sophie and Octavian, during which Anne Evans was seen to wipe away a tear or two, the audience roared its approval.

Evans is of course world-famous for her Wagner roles – Brünnhilde, Isolde, Kundry, Elisabeth, and Elsa, as well as for her Strauss roles of Ariadne, the Marschallin, and both the Empress and the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten. I remember also her Donna Anna and her marvellous Cassandra in the production of Les Troyens under Mackerras in the late 1980s. We are lucky to have had her in our midst and she will be sorely missed.

This was certainly an evening to remember.

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Friday 8 August at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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