Der Rosenkavalier

Miah Persson as Sophie in a Metropolitan Opera production of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's opera "Der Rosenkavalier," in 2009.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Miah Persson as Sophie in a Metropolitan Opera production of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's opera "Der Rosenkavalier," in 2009.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Der Rosenkavalier is a famous comic opera written by German Romantic composer Richard Strauss and Austrian novelist, librettist, poet, and dramatist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

The opera premiered on January 26, 1911 at the Court Opera in Dresden. Ernst Von Schuch conducted the production by Max Reinhardt. The cast included Margarethe Siems as the Marschallin, Eva van der Osten in the ‘hosenrolle’ (male part in a play or opera) of the dashing Count Octavian Rofrano and Karl Perron as the bumptious Baron Ochs (my role).

The success was immediate, except the opera was panned by the critics at its New York premiere in 1913. Who ever built a statue to a critic? Der Rosenkavalier had over 400 performances at the Metropolitan Opera alone.

A Love Triangle

I love this opera and, yes, it does have a few spots that ramble on. “The Chevalier of the Rose” tells the story of a still beautiful but aging (she’s 33 years old!) Princess (the Marschallin) in Maria Theresa’s Vienna, her love for a handsome young Count (17 years old), and his new love for a girl close to his age. It’s a sad and lovely triangle.

The proceedings are enlivened by the Marschallin’s rough mannered cousin who wants to marry the dewy young minx himself. Along the way there are hysterical characterizations of hairdressers, footmen, orphans — noble orphans, to be sure — and conceited Italian tenors.

Hofmannsthal’s original story is masterful. In Vienna, Der Rosenkavalier has been performed as a play ohne musik (without music).

On February 11, 1909 Hofmannsthal writes to Strauss, “My dear Doctor, I have spent three quiet afternoons here drafting the full and entirely original scenario for a new opera, full of burlesque situations and characters. It contains two big parts, one for baritone and one for a girl dressed up as a man, a la Farrar or Mary Garden…”

Geraldine Farrar wanted too much money. Mary Garden, ever the publicity maven, turned down the role of Count Octavian “because it would bore me to make love to a woman.” You gotta love her. Geraldine and Mary missed, the exquisite trio ending the opera, as the Marschallin realizes that young love, that of Octavian and Sophie, must now take precedence.

Comedy, pathos, waltzes, a touch of vulgarity and a splendid rococo setting.

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