March 06, 2019

"Der Rosenkavalier": Strauss’s Operatic Jewel

There’s a worldly-wise woman, Princess von Werdenberg, wondering if her much-younger lover, Octavian, is going to leave her. And there’s the innocent young Sophie falling head over heels for Octavian, who’s desperate to keep her from marrying the wrong man — that’s the romantic side of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, an opera the whole world has been in love with for more than a century.

Romance (both youthfully impetuous and maturely bittersweet) is at the heart of this opera, but so is hilarious comedy. That’s courtesy of the boorish, bull-in-a-china-shop Baron Ochs, who gets himself into one very tricky situation after another. There are also side-splitting scenes involving Ochs’s pursuit of a chambermaid, who’s actually Octavian in disguise!  And we have any number of pricelessly funny vignettes involving the supporting characters — a singer, a duenna, a couple of Italian busybodies — who keep everything buoyant and lively onstage.

Above all, there’s Strauss’s music — and what music it is! From the ebullient lines opening the orchestral prelude all the way to the heaven-sent trio and rapturous final duet, this score transports you to a unique realm of sheer sensuous pleasure.  Strauss was passionately devoted to the soprano voice (no surprise, considering he was married to a great soprano himself), and the central roles are all written for sopranos. When you hear them unite for the trio, you may well decide that you’ve never heard anything more beautiful in an opera house! There’s also a gloriously lyrical tenor aria, marvelous waltzes, exciting ensembles, and no fewer than three exquisite duets for Sophie and her beloved Octavian.  

With Der Rosenkavalier opening just a few days before Valentine’s Day, what great timing if you’re looking for an opera to enjoy with your beloved — an evening of total romantic delight.  

Der Rosenkavalier: "Hab mir's gelobt" (Fleming, Schäfer, Graham)

Lyric Opera production generously made possible by an Anonymous Donor and Mr. & Mrs. Dietrich M. Gross.

Photo: Robert Kusel