DER ROSENKAVALIER – RICHARD STRAUSS –ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
On 14 March I saw Der Rosenkavalier (the Cavalier of the Rose) at the ROH. The orchestra was conducted by Christian Thielemann. Music is by Richard Strauss and the story and libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two men were to become a great partnership throughout the creation of the opera. Costumes were by Maria Bjornson famous for her designs for “Phantom of the Opera “. Renee Fleming played the role of the Marschallin (Marie Theresa, wife of Field Marshall Prince Werdenberg) who falls in love with Octavian, a young gentleman of noble family played by Susan Graham. Franz Hawlatta was a lovable old lecher as Baron Ochs.
Strauss wrote it in Mozartian style (Mozart apparently loved it). Strauss said “Hofmannstal’s libretto has a charming Rococo character about it, and it was my task to convert this into music.“
Set in Vienna, it is very Viennese, “the second Act closing with a real Viennese waltz “said Strauss. The duet between Octavian and Baron Ochs is made up purely of waltz motifs.
The feature of the rose is the silver rose, which a young nobleman traditionally presents to his bride-be.
It was first performed in Dresden in 1911. The Marschallin is entertaining her young lover Octavian (a youth of seventeen) in the absence of her husband when Baron Ochs is announce so Octavian is forced to disguise himself hastily as a chambermaid, a disguise he has to keep for a great deal of the opera. Altogether it is a confusing tale of characters in disguise – boys dressing as girls and vice versa: a satire on Viennese morals and manners.
The story goes that when the liberating troops walked up the drive of Richard Strauss’ home in Garmisch, Bavaria in 1945 they were met by an old man with a white moustache and heavily lined face. He held out his hand and said in English: “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of Der Rosenkavalier.” And the soldiers knew what he meant. Rosenkavalier was Strauss’ international identity card as it were.
Renee Fleming has been hailed as the Marschallin of our time. She was, as a young singer, coached in the role by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who shoed her the way into the composer’s mind (it is the role for which Schwarzkopf is best – remembered). She told Fleming to focus more on the spoken character of Strauss’ writing. Schwarzkopf’s portrayal of the role changed it forever, making it an acting part, a theatre part.