Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier

Event: Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier
Date: May 13, 2017, 12:30 pm
Run Time: 4 hours 47 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Der Rosenkavalierper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Der Rosenkavalierper student • $11.00 online

Der Rosenkavalier


In this production the action is set in Vienna in 1911, the year of the opera’s premiere.

Act I

The Marschallin, Princess Marie-Therèse von Werdenberg, has spent the night with her young lover, Octavian, Count Rofrano. They are sharing breakfast when voices are heard in the anteroom. Octavian quickly hides. The unexpected visitor turns out not to be Marie-Therèse’s husband, the Feldmarschall, but her country cousin, Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. After bragging about his latest amorous adventures, Ochs turns to the subject of his upcoming marriage to Sophie, the young daughter of the recently ennobled and extremely wealthy arms-dealer, Baron von Faninal. Ochs has come to ask the Marschallin’s advice as to which young aristocrat should be chosen to present his fiancée with the traditional silver engagement rose. On a playful whim the Marschallin suggests Octavian himself, who suddenly emerges from his hiding place, disguised as a chambermaid. Ochs instantly starts making advances towards “Mariandel,” but she escapes from him as the room fills with the daily crowd of petitioners for the Marschallin’s morning “levee.” Among them is a pair of Italian intriguers, Annina and Valzacchi, whom Ochs hires to track down the pretty servant girl. When the room is cleared, the Marschallin, appalled by the thought of Ochs being married to an innocent young girl, reflects on her own unhappy marriage and her waning youth. Octavian returns and passionately declares his love, but he is surprised to find Marie-Therèse in a distant and melancholy mood. She can only think about the passing of time and tells him that the day will come when he will leave her for a younger woman. Hurt by her words, Octavian rushes off. The Marschallin summons her page Mohammed, and sends him after Octavian with the silver rose.

Act II

On the morning of her engagement, Sophie excitedly awaits the arrival of the knight of the rose. Octavian enters with great ceremony and presents her with the silver rose on behalf of Baron Ochs. The two young people feel an instant attraction to each other. Ochs, whom Sophie has never met, now arrives, and both she and Octavian are shocked by his crude manners. When Ochs leaves to discuss the wedding contract with her father, Sophie desperately asks Octavian to help her. Their growing affection leads them to their first kiss. Annina and Valzacchi have been spying on them and immediately summon Ochs, who takes in the situation with great good humor. This infuriates Octavian even more: he draws his sword, and in so doing slightly grazes Ochs, who melodramatically calls for a doctor. In the ensuing confusion, Sophie tells her father that she will never marry the Baron, while Octavian enlists Annina and Valzacchi’s help to develop a plan to ensure that Ochs can never marry Sophie. Left alone, Ochs nurses his hurt pride with a glass of wine. Annina appears with a letter from Mariandel, asking the Baron for a rendez-vous the next evening. The delighted Ochs rejoices in his latest amorous conquest.


At a house of ill-repute, Annina and Valzacchi prepare a private room for the Baron’s rendez-vous with Mariandel. Ochs arrives and begins his seduction of the young girl over a private supper. Mariandel coyly leads him on, when suddenly grotesque apparitions appear from secret panels. The Baron’s confusion turns to alarm when Annina appears, disguised as a poverty-stricken mother with a group of children in tow, claiming that Ochs is their father. A police commissioner enters and attempts to restore order. When he interrogates Ochs as to his intentions with Mariandel, Ochs declares that she is in fact his fiancée. Faninal, summoned anonymously by Octavian, arrives now with Sophie, but Ochs pretends not to know either of them. This so upsets Faninal that he is taken ill and has to be carried off. At the height of the confusion, the Marschallin appears unexpectedly. Ochs is astonished to discover that Mariandel is in fact Octavian in disguise, but his astonishment turns to thoughts of blackmail when he realizes the real nature of the relationship between the Marschallin and Octavian. The Marschallin, losing all patience, informs her cousin that his marriage plans are finished and that he had better leave. Ochs finally admits defeat and makes a swift exit, pursued by the innkeeper and numerous other creditors. Octavian, Sophie, and the Marschallin are left alone, each one reflecting on what has brought them to this moment. The Marschallin observes the loss of her lover to the younger woman, as she had predicted, and quietly leaves the room. The young lovers are left alone, wondering whether their future together is in fact merely a dream.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

After their collaboration on the grimly violent Elektra, composer Richard Strauss told Viennese playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal that he wanted to compose a comic opera in 18th century style. Hofmannsthal concocted a story involving two men as rivals for the hand of a young girl: one an older provincial boor, the other a handsome young aristocrat played by a woman (like Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro).  

Der Rosenkavalier turned out somewhat differently than its creators expected. It was much longer; its tone was more philosophical and wistful; and the Marschallin, originally a peripheral figure, became the principal character. She dominates Act I, is absent from Act II, and reappears only at the end of Act III. Hofmannsthal worried that the audience would cease to care about her, but Strauss reassured him that the music would take care of it. He was right; the final trio is one of his greatest inspirations, and the Marschallin one of the most lovable heroines in the operatic repertory. Hofmannsthal paid tribute to his collaborator with these words: “The music is endlessly loving and unites everything: the Marschallin’s lament is as sweet a sound as Sophie’s child-like joy. The music has only one aim: to pour forth the harmony of all that lives, to the joy of every soul.”

Like the three other greatest comic operas — Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, and Verdi’s FalstaffDer Rosenkavalier is about aging and loss. The mature Marschallin tells young Octavian that he will leave her “today, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.” When he protests, she says, “I want to make it easy between you and me. You have to be light, light of heart and hand, holding and taking, holding and letting go.” Strauss wanted this scene played “without the slightest trace of sentimentality … with Viennese grace and lightness, half weeping, half smiling.”  

Hofmannsthal’s !8th century Vienna is a fantasy of invented customs and dialects. Strauss’s waltzes are anachronistic; the waltz craze came decades later. No matter. Der Rosenkavalier, the second of six operas they wrote together, is by far the most popular.