St. Paul, Minn. —
Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose), which the Met broadcasts this weekend, is a comic opera, premiered in 1911. It tells the tale of a young girl, the dashing young man she falls in love with, and how he outwits the pompous nobleman she is to marry. But the opera also has a bittersweet side, dealing with aging and loss. The setting is Vienna, in around 1740.
It's the most popular work by the team of composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. (Decades later, Strauss would identify himself by saying "I am the composer of Der Rosenkavalier.") It's part of the standard operatic repertoire, and suites from the opera are familiar orchestral fare.
If you're an opera fan, you probably know that the opera revolves around the "ancient tradition" of the Rosenkavalier (a tradition made up for the opera). And you may know that Strauss used the 19th-century waltz in this 18th-century opera, in a deliberate anachronism. But here are a few bits of trivia that you might not know:
When Hofmannsthal proposed the idea of the opera to Strauss, he described two of the main characters and the Viennese setting. With not much more to go on than this, Strauss accepted immediately.
Strauss and Hofmannsthal had trouble deciding on a title for their opera. Among the candidates were Ochs auf Lerchenau, The Amorous Adventures of Milord Ochs, and The Country Cousin. It was Strauss's wife who lobbied for the final, memorable title.
To create his libretto, Hofmannsthal borrowed from many sources: well over a dozen, if the scholars are to be believed. One of the sources: a painting by William Hogarth.
The premiere production was such a success that the railways laid on extra trains to accommodate all the out-of-towners who wanted to come to see it.
Some passages of the original text of Rosenkavalier were deemed too risqué and had to be toned down before being performed in Berlin. Today they wouldn't raise an eyebrow.
In the 1920s, Strauss and Hofmannsthal created a "silent" film version of Rosenkavalier. It's not a straight screen version of the opera Hofmannsthal wrote some new scenes, and Strauss composed some new music. (We've embedded the complete film below.)
Three of the big roles in the opera are for women's voices. They all come together at the end of the opera, in a trio that is one of the score's high points. Some sopranos have sung all three roles over the course of a career. (Strauss's score says the title role is for mezzo-soprano, but he always seems to have preferred a soprano for the part.)
Der Rosenkavalier was quite a money-maker for its authors. With some of his royalties, Hofmannsthal bought himself a Picasso.
Der Rosenkavalier (1926). Note: the intertitles are in German.
Rex Levang disentangles the plot and characters of Der Rosenkavalier
Listen to the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Der Rosenkavalier at noon on Saturday, Feb. 22, on Classical Minnesota Public Radio.