Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss and 1911 premiere of Der Rosenkavalier

When Der Rosenkavalier or The Knight of the Rose, an opera in three acts by Richard Strauss with words by Hugo von Hofmannsthal opened at the Royal Opera House in Dresden in 1911, it was so successful that special trains had to be run from Berlin to Dresden. Berliners, fearing it would not be shown locally because it was so risque, flocked to see it in Dresden.

Marschellin's costume, Marschellin and Sophie

Having written Salome, and later Elektra in collaboration with Hofmannsthal, Strauss asked Hofmannsthal for a 'Mozart opera', something melodious and uncomplicated for their new opera. A friend of Hofmannsthal, Kessler, contributed to early drafts of Rosenkavalier and then provided diaries from the Empress Maria Theresa's Master of the Household, which were written in courtly language and chronicled the years 1742-49. The opera opens in the Vienna of 1740 during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa.

Beginning, Act I to end, Act III

In the three acts, a long and complicated story is told. There is the Princess or Marschallin, a woman who is much younger than her husband. She suddenly realizes that she is aging and struggles with this awareness. She is first seen with Octavian, her lover, a handsome youth of seventeen. Her husband is away hunting. The Princess's vulgar cousin, Baron von Ochs von Lerchenan arrives as the lovers are having breakfast and forces an audience with the Princess which makes it necessary for Octavian to disguise himself as a chambermaid. The Baron is seeking a Knight to present a silver rose that will secure his engagement to Sophie, daughter of the wealthy, recently ennobled, Herr von Faninal. but he still finds the ' chambermaid ' most interesting. Ultimately, Octavian is chosen to present the rose to Sophie for the Baron but when he does, Octavian and Sophie fall in love and complications arise. Another theme is youth with its freshness and energy.

The rose is presented

The Lyric Opera production offers intimate arias, grand sweeping waltzes, and a wonderful cast. Susan Graham a wonderful teen aged Count, playing the conflicted youth to perfection, the Octavian of the moment. Anne Schwanewilms, as the Marschallin, communicates with breathtaking intensity and Franz Hawlata is a very convincing Baron Ochs.

Count Octavian, the lover of both the Marschallin and Sophie is played as a 'trousered woman' a decision by Hofmannsthal in order to revive a long-dormant convention of women playing men's roles, and to exploit the role's capacity for burlesque and risque situations.

Magnificent Act II

The score is a treasure house of orchestration in the choice of instruments and in the way they are used. Waltz themes abound (in the manner of Johann Strauss) and provide atmosphere. The finale to the second act is considered to be the most significant music for the opera stage written in Germany since Wagner.

Costuming Octavian

Lyric's stage director, Bruce Donnell, wanted the staging and costuming for this production to be as close as possible to the 1911 Dresden premiere. He worked with Thierry Bosquet, the costume and stage designer. The sets are wonderful, especially the second act. The magnificent costumes are a delight and very close to the look of the original.

The opera remembered

At a recent meeting of the Lyric Opera Club of Evanston, comments about der Rosenkavalier included, 'It is still long!' 'It was beautiful and I really liked the English titles', 'I'm glad I stayed for the third act, it was the best, especially the trio'. I agree, the trio was truly exquisite and heart rending. Time, which by the way is very much a theme of der Rosenkavalier, went by very quickly. It was a wonderful production with lyrical music that remains in your head and gorgeous singing, acting and staging. Enjoy der Rosenkavalier during one of the six productions remaining. Contact Lyric Opera's Box Office by phone: 312-332-2244 X5600 or at:

Lyric Opera pictures by Robert Kusel and Dan Rest

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