Monday, January 26, 2015

Strauss' DER ROSENKAVALIER Premiered ~ January 26, 1911

Der Rosenkavalier (Op. 59) (The Knight of the Rose) is a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to an original German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is loosely adapted from the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai and Molière's comedy Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. It was first performed at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden on 26 January 1911. Until the premiere, the working title was Ochs von Lerchenau. (The choice of the name Ochs is not accidental, for in German Ochs is translated as ox, which depicts the character of the Baron throughout the opera.)

Der Rosenkavalier premiered in 1911 in Dresden under the baton of Ernst von Schuch who had previously conducted the premieres of Strauss's Feuersnot, Salome and Elektra, Georg Toller was originally supposed to produce the production, but he backed out and was replaced by Max Reinhardt. The event was a pinnacle in the career of soprano Margarethe Siems (Strauss’s first Chrysothemis) who portrayed the Marschallin.

The reaction to the 1911 premiere was nothing short of triumphant. The opera was a complete success with the public and was a great financial boon for the house; it is reported that at the time of the première, tickets were sold out almost immediately. The response from music critics was overall very positive, although some responded negatively to Strauss's use of waltzes, a music form out of fashion at that present moment. Despite this, the opera became one of the composer's most popular works during his lifetime and the opera remains a part of the standard repertory today.

The opera has four main characters: the aristocratic Marschallin, her very young lover Octavian Rofrano, her coarse, skirt-chasing country cousin Baron Ochs, and his young prospective fiancée Sophie, the lovely daughter of a rich Viennese bourgeois. Baron Ochs, having arranged with Sophie's father Faninal to combine his noble rank with Faninal's money by marrying Sophie, asks the Marschallin to suggest an appropriate young man to be his Knight of the Rose, who will present a silver rose to Sophie on his behalf as a traditional symbol of courtship. She recommends Octavian. When Octavian delivers the rose, he and Sophie fall in love on sight, and must figure out how to prevent Baron Ochs from marrying Sophie. They accomplish this in a comedy of errors that is smoothed over with the help of the Marschallin.

Image &
Friday, January 8, 2010
By Barb Herbert
In "Der Rosenkavalier" Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, created their most realistic characters. The Marschallin, who is the main character in the opera, is a beautiful, elegant and sad woman. She is sad because time is slipping away and she fears becoming old (she is 32 years old and her lover, Octavian, is 17). Her young lover (the part is sung by a mezzo-soprano) falls in love with a beautiful young girl named Sophie. The Marschallin is the one who introduces him to Sophie even though she knows that she will lose Octavian by doing so. Perhaps the Marschallin will have other lovers; Strauss thought that she would.
The most poignant moment in the opera comes at the end of Act I when the Marschallin sings these words:
"Time, after all ... time leaves the world unchanged./Time is a strange thing./While one is living one's life away,/It is absolutely nothing./Then, suddenly, one is aware of nothing else./At times I hear it flowing -- inexorably./At times, I get up in the middle of the night/And stop all the clocks, all of them."
There is also a comic character in the opera; his name is Baron Ochs. He fancies himself an irresistible lover and is excited about his forthcoming marriage to Sophie. Things don't exactly turn out as he had planned as the other characters play some pretty funny practical jokes on him. He never does marry Sophie, much to his chagrin.
This is an opera of great charm and elegance. The Met sets are gorgeous and reflect the style of Vienna, Austria, during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa. Soprano Renee Fleming sings the role of the Marschallin, and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham is Octavian.
It is amazing to me that the man who wrote "Salome" and "Elektra," two of the weirdest operas in the repertory, could write "Der Rosenkavalier," the most elegant and wistful of all operas.
Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of KRCU's "Sunday Night at the Opera."
© Copyright 2010
Der Rosenkavalier is one of my all time favorite operas, both for its story and music. Richard Strauss was a master orchestrator, and his writing for this opera features some of the most glorious orchestral and vocal music ever heard! The Metropolitan Opera in New York had a live high-definition broadcast in movie theatres on Saturday January 9th two years ago. It was completely sold out a week in advance for the showing at a major theatre downtown San Francisco. I was able to attend, however, at a smaller theatre on the other side of the Twin Peaks tunnel, the Empire Theatre in West Portal. I was up early Saturday morning and managed to get a ticket. It was a splendid performance with Renee Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian.

1 comment:

JayV said...

Just discovered your blog (saw on your profile that you also like the film "The Shooting Party"), so I thought I'd look further and saw this post. On Wednesday evening, rather than listen to the SOTU address, I went to see the HD rebroadcast of Der Rosenkavalier at a local theatre. It's my most favourite opera. I'd never been to an HD performance. I loved it. Rather than run out at intermission to grab pop corn, I sat enthralled by the behind-the-scenes look of the stagehands setting up for the next act. The singing and Strauss' music were breathtaking, but that look backstage made the $20 ticket price well worth it.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)