Der Rosenkavalier: A Beautiful Opera Turns 100

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929)(Photo: Faber)

How’s this for a show?

Lovely princess has an affair with a much younger man while her much older husband is off hunting in the woods.  Princess’s well born but bumptious cousin arrives to find said princess and young honey in flagrante delicto.

Young man disguises himself as a chamber maid to cover up the nasty and sweeps out. Cousin asks princess to recommend a young man to present a silver rose to his intended, a young girl from a rich family “fresh from the convent”.

Young man presents the rose, falls in love with young intended, princess gives up her young hottie and the country cousin slinks off.

Oh and I forgot tometion that the young man is played by a woman who disguises him/herself as a woman and, oh never mind….

Der Rosenkavalier had its premiere in Dresden in 1911. The great Max Reinhardt directed the production, which was conducted by Ernst von Schuch. This was the second collaboration between composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

A century ago a professor of mine remarked “Rosenkavalier is all very nice…all those sixth chords!” The ambiguous tonality of the work reflects the comedy and naughtiness of all the gender confusion.

Strauss wrote a set of waltzes for the second act. The opera is set circa 1760, one hundred years before the waltz was known, but the early audiences in Dresden and Vienna got the joke. I took a friend to see Rosenkavalier and she kept hissing “Why don’t they all shut up and let me hear the waltzes?

Happy birthday to a beloved opera long on charm and satire, with just enough sadness to convince one that “it’s only an opera”.

I’ll present the classic recording conducted by Karajan with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig and Otto Edelmann-Saturday, August 13 at 1.30 PM. Tune in and join the party, and I hope you will waltz all afternoon!