Opera Profile: Strauss’ ‘Der Rosenkavalier’

By David Salazar

Of all of Richard Strauss’ operas, none is more famous than “Der Rosenkavalier.”

The work, written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, premiered on Jan. 26, 1911. While a comedy on the surface, the opera muses on the passing of time and the challenges of growing old, as explored through the character of the Marschallin.

The opera was a massive success at its premiere and has since held the stage.

Short Plot Summary

The Marschallin and Octavian are enjoying a morning of lovemaking when suddenly her cousin the Baron Ochs storms into her room. Octavian hides and disguises himself as a servant, Mariandel. Ochs tells the Marschallin that he is engaged to marry the wife of Herr von Faninal but needs someone to present her with the rose, as is customary in this society. He flirts with Mariandel, not knowing that he is not a woman. The Marschallin proposes that her cousin Octavian be the one to present the rose and shows Ochs a picture. The image is so similar to that of Octavian that Ochs is perplexed. He agrees. After a bunch of people come to visit the Marschallin, she sees herself aging in the mirror and struggles with this reality. She tells Octavian that one day he will find another and leave her.

Sophie and her father await the arrival of the Rosenkavalier. Octavian arrives and gets along with Sophie. Ochs arrives and acts like a monster, much to the disgust of Sophie. Octavian and Sophie fall in love but are discovered by Ochs’ spies Valzacchi and Annina. Ochs arrives and taunts the much younger Octavian, even drawing blood with his sword. Sophie refuses to marry Ochs, but is left with no choice.

Annina arrives with a letter from Mariandel asking Ochs to meet her for a rendezvous.

Ochs arrives for the rendezvous and tries to seduce Mariandel but is struck by her similarity to Octavian. Scandal ensues as a series of apparitions and strange guests enter the space to throw Ochs off his guard. The Marschallin arrives to intervene and Ochs is sent off. Ochs, Sophie, and Octavian are left alone and the Marschallin realizes that she has lost her beloved Octavian. The two young lovers embrace and run off together.

Famous Musical Numbers 

The opera’s final trio is undeniably the emotional core of any performance of the opera. There are few moments that reach the emotional power of hearing the three female voices reach ever higher and higher toward the passage’s climax.

Watch and Listen 

Here is Kiri Te Kanawa, one of the finest Marschallin interpreters of all time, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.


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