The Knight of the Rose
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier - The Royal Opera, Covent Garden
This production of Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" by Oscar-winning film director John Schlesinger, marked the 25th anniversary of Sir Georg Solti's spectacular debut at Covent Garden. Featuring Kiri Te Kanawa's first performance in London in the role of Marschal
Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose or The Rose-Bearer), Op. 59, 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 under the direction of Max Reinhardt, Ernst von Schuch conducting. Until the premiere the working title was Ochs von Lerchenau. (The choice of the name Ochs is not accidental, for in German Ochs means ox, which depicts the character of the Baron throughout the opera.)
There is an anecdote about Der Rosenkavadier and its composer which, as the Italians say, si non e vero, e ben trovato, if not gospel truth, is at least to the point. The opera was produced in 1911, and quite some years later the aging composer was, for the first time, conducting a performance of it himself. In the last act—all the while conducting—he leaned over to his first fiddle and whispered, “Isn’t this awfully long?” “Why, maestro,” objected the concertmaster, “you composed it yourself.” “I know,” said Strauss sadly, “but I never thought I’d have to conduct it.”
A completely uncut version of the opera, without intermissions, would take almost four hours to perform. All the more remarkable is it that a light comedy can sustain its charm so consistently that its length has not prevented its becoming the most popular of all the operas of Richard Strauss, a staple in the repertoire of almost every great opera house in England, the United States, and Central Europe (Latin countries take to it a little less kindly); and, along with Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, it is generally regarded as the greatest comic opera to come out of Germany since Mozart. Like Die Meistersinger, incidentally, it was originally planned as a very short work, but its composer became so enamored of the idea of reproducing a full-length portrait of a phase in social history, that it gained enormous depth in detail during the writing. No one who loves either of these works wishes to forgo a single one of those details.
(The Knight of the Rose)
Opera in three acts by Richard Strauss with libretto in German by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
The Marschallin, Princess Marie Thérèse von Werdenberg -soprano
Octavian, Count Rofrano, her young lover -mezzo-soprano
Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau, the Marschallin's cousin -bass
Sophie von Faninal -soprano
Herr von Faninal, Sophie's rich parvenu father -baritone
Marianne, her duenna -soprano
Valzacchi, an intriguer -tenor
Annina, his niece and partner -contralto
A notary -bass
An Italian singer - tenor
Three noble orphans -soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto
A milliner -soprano
A vendor of pets -tenor
Faninal's Major-Domo -tenor
A police inspector -bass
The Marschallin's Major-Domo -tenor
An innkeeper -tenor
Four lackeys -tenors, basses
Four waiters -tenor, basses
Mohammed, the Marschallin's black page
A flautist, a cook, a hairdresser and his assistant,
a scholar, a noble widow
Servants, hired deceivers, children, constables
Time: middle of the 18th century
First performance at Dresden, January 26, 1911
Hogarth's The Countess's Morning Levee (ca. 1744), the inspiration for the Marschallin's morning reception
The Marschallin's bedroom
Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg (known as the Marschallin, the title given to a Field Marshal's wife) and her much younger lover, Count Octavian Rofrano, are lounging in bed together just before daybreak ("Wie du warst! Wie du bist"). Loud voices are soon heard outside, and the Marschallin has Octavian hide, believing that her husband has returned early from a hunting trip. Octavian emerges in a skirt and bonnet ("Befehl'n fürstli' Gnad'n, i bin halt noch nit recht...") and tries to sneak away, but the Marschallin's country cousin, Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau, bursts in through the same door.
The Baron is newly engaged to Sophie Faninal ("Selbstverständlich empfängt mich Ihro Gnaden"), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, though this doesn't stop him from making sotto voce passes at the disguised Octavian. Ochs has come to ask two favors: he wants to borrow his cousin's notary to write the marriage contract, and he wants her recommendation of a young nobleman to serve as his Rosenkavalier ("Knight of the Rose"), who will deliver the traditional silver engagement rose to Sophie. Despite "her" whispered protestations, the Marschallin instructs "Mariandel" to fetch Octavian's miniature portrait and present it to the Baron, who immediately assumes that the "maid" must be the young count's "bastard sister." He approvingly declares that nobility should be served by nobility, freely admitting that he employs his own illegitimate son as his valet, and accepts Octavian as his Rosenkavalier. He then insists that the Marschallin allow "Mariandel" to work for his new bride. She refuses as politely as possible and finally dismisses the "maid."
A busy reception scene ensues as the room fills with vendors and supplicants to the Marschallin ("Drei arme adelige Waisen"), who ignores the former and aids the latter. A tenor sent by the Portuguese ambassador serenades her ("Di rigori armato") while Ochs sits down with the notary. Two Italian intriguers, Valzacchi and Annina, present scandal sheets for sale, which the Marschallin coldly declines. Ochs tries to stipulate a gift from Sophie's family consisting of all their properties, free from mortgages, and quickly loses patience with the notary's attempts to explain that this is illegal. Amidst all the activity, the Marschallin remarks to her hairdresser: "My dear Hippolyte, today you have made me look like an old woman." ("Mein lieber Hippolyte"). This so disturbs her that she orders the room to be emptied. As the people file out, Valzacchi and Annina offer Baron Ochs their spying services. He asks whether they know anything about "Mariandel;" they promptly lie and claim to know all about her.
The Marschallin, now alone, ponders her waning youth and the unhappiness of her forced marriage, perceiving that the same is in store for Sophie Faninal ("Da geht er hin..."). Octavian returns, dressed again in men's clothes ("Ach, du bist wieder da"), and attributes her sadness to the earlier fear that he might have been discovered. She muses on the passage of time (a clock is heard chiming thirteen times) and declares that, very soon, he'll leave her for someone younger and prettier. When Octavian reacts with frustration, she turns him away. The moment he's out of the room she realizes that she has neglected to kiss him goodbye. She dispatches footmen; they return saying that the Count galloped off and ignored their cries. The Marschallin then summons her page Mohammed to take the silver rose to Octavian. This done, she stares pensively into her hand mirror (or similar) as the curtain falls.
Richard Strauss - Rosenkavalier
Marchallin - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Octavian - Sena Jurinac
Sophie - Anneliese Rothenberger
Baron Ochs - Otto Edelmann
Conductor - Herbert von Karajan
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra
The von Faninals' palace
The next day, Herr von Faninal and Sophie await the arrival of the Rosenkavalier ("Ein ernster Tag, ein grosser Tag!"). Faninal is exultant at the prospect of becoming connected to the aristocracy through his daughter's marriage to the Baron. Following tradition, he departs before the Knight appears, saying that he'll return with the bridegroom. An excited Sophie prays to keep her sense of humility through all the rapid changes happening in her life, but she's repeatedly interrupted by her duenna, Marianne, who reports from the window on the elaborate entourage of the Rosenkavalier ("In dieser feierlichen Stunde der Prüfung"). Octavian arrives with great pomp, dressed all in silver, and presents the silver rose to Sophie ("Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren..."). She smells the rose, which has been anointed with Persian rose oil, and declares that it has a scent so sweet it's like a greeting from Heaven itself. Octavian, instantly smitten, joins her avowal that they'll remember this moment until death.
The young people settle into a chaperoned conversation. Sophie reveals that she already knows Octavian's full name - Octavian Maria Ehrenreich Bonaventura Fernand Hyacinth Rofrano - from studying the catalogue of Austrian nobility to prepare for her marriage. She even knows his nickname: Quinquin, which only intimate friends (including the Marschallin) call him. She adds that she likes him very much. Ochs then enters with Faninal ("Jetzt aber kommt mein Herr Zukünftiger") and wastes no time in revealing his character to the bride, loudly examining Sophie's body and comparing her to "an unbroken filly" when she protests. Once he leaves the room with Faninal to finalize the marriage contract, Sophie and Octavian quickly agree that she won't marry the Baron under any circumstances.
The young lovers' rapturous duet ("Mit Ihren Augen voll Tränen") is soon interrupted by Valzacchi and Annina, who surprise them and call for Ochs. Octavian tries to inform the Baron that the young lady doesn't want him; Ochs dismisses her wants entirely. Octavian then challenges the Baron to a duel; Ochs runs forward, scratches his arm on the point of Octavian's drawn sword, and screams so that Faninal and the rest of the household come rushing in. Sophie begs her father to call off the wedding, but Faninal threatens to send her to a convent if she refuses to marry the Baron. Octavian is asked to leave, and Sophie is sent to her room. Ochs is left on the divan, his wounded arm in a sling, consoling himself with a bottle of port and fantasies of revenge against Octavian. But Annina brings him something that raises his spirits much more quickly: a letter signed by "Mariandel," the "chambermaid" from Act 1, asking for a tryst. At this, Ochs forgets his sling and waltzes across the stage, ignoring Annina's hints for a tip - and missing her quiet promise to get even ("Da lieg' ich!").
Richard Strauss - Il cavaliere della rosa - Der Rosenkavalier
Direttore musicale: Carlos Kleiber
Coro e orchestra di Vienna
La Marescialla: Felicity Lott (soprano)
Il Barone di Lerchenau : Kurt Moll (basso)
Octavian: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)
Signor di Faninal: Gottfried Hornik (baritono)
Sophie: Barbara Bonney (soprano)
Marianne Leitmetzerin: Olivera Mijakovic (soprano)
Valzacchi: Heinz Zednik (tenore)
Annina: Anna Gonda (mezzo-soprano)
Il commissario: Peter Wimberger (baritono-basso)
L'intendente della marescialla: Waldemar Kmentt (tenore)
L'intendente d Faninal: Franz Kasemann (tenore)
Il notaio: Wolfgang Bankl (baritono-basso)
L'oste : Peter Jelosits (tenore)
Il cantante: Keith Ikaia-Purdy (tenore)
A private room in a shabby inn
Valzacchi and Annina, fed up with the Baron, help Octavian prepare a trap the following evening. Elaborate preparations are seen in pantomime before Ochs arrives with "Mariandel," ready for a cozy dinner at a table set for two.
Ochs' attempts at seduction do not go well. He's already disturbed by "Mariandel's" uncanny resemblance to his nemesis Octavian, and he keeps catching glimpses of strange apparitions in the room. Suddenly a woman - Annina in disguise - bursts in, calling Ochs her husband and the father of her (numerous) children, who crowd around him crying "Papa! Papa!" The Baron calls for the police to have this disturbance removed. To his unpleasant surprise, the vice squad treats him with suspicion, and Valzacchi is suddenly claiming not to know him. Ochs tells the Police Inspector that the "woman" accompanying him is his fiancée, Sophie Faninal, just in time for Herr von Faninal to arrive, demanding to know why Ochs' messenger has summoned him to this disreputable place. The Police Inspector asks if he recognizes his son-in-law, which he does, and if he recognizes his daughter - to which he retorts in a rage that his daughter is outside. The real Sophie enters and announces once and for all that she does not consider Baron Ochs her bridegroom. Her apoplectic father staggers out, leaning on her shoulder.
"Mariandel" now offers to make a statement, and retires behind a screen with the Police Inspector. Soon Ochs sees articles of women's clothing coming into view. He rages against the vice squad, but his ineffectual attempts to defend "Mariandel's" honor are interrupted by the arrival of the Marschallin. The Police Inspector greets her before clearing the room, and she explains to the Baron that he's been had. Sophie returns, and Octavian emerges, to confirm that they set up a "masquerade" together to break his engagement. Ochs, glancing back and forth between Octavian and the Marschallin, suddenly grasps the nature of their relationship and asks for hush money. But he's cowed by the Marschallin's force of will (and perhaps the sight of Octavian's sword) and ingloriously departs, pursued by children and bill collectors.
The Marschallin, Sophie, and Octavian are left alone, and Octavian doesn't know what to do. The Marschallin introduces herself to Sophie, recognizing that the day she feared has come (Trio: Marie Theres'! / Hab' mir's gelobt), and releases Octavian to be with the woman he truly loves. She then withdraws quietly, having promised Sophie that she would offer Faninal a face-saving ride home in her carriage. As soon as she is gone, Sophie and Octavian run to each other's arms. Faninal and the Marschallin return to find them locked in an embrace. With a last, bittersweet glance toward her lost lover, the Marschallin heads for the carriage with Faninal. Sophie and Octavian follow after another brief but ecstatic love duet (Ist ein Traum / Spür' nur dich). The opera ends with little Mohammed trotting in to retrieve Sophie's dropped handkerchief, then racing out again.
Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier - Baden-Baden, 2009
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Orchestra: Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Chorus: Vienna Philharmonia Chorus
Chorus Master: Walter Zeh
Renee Fleming sop Die Feldmarschallin
Sophie Koch mez Octavian
Franz Hawlata bass-bar Baron Ochs
Diana Damrau sop Sophie
Franz Grundheber bar Faninal
Jonas Kaufmann ten Italian Tenor
Jane Henschel mez Annina
Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke ten Valzacchi
Irmgard Vilsmaier sop Leitmetzerin