Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Der Rosenkavalier

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Language  German
Composer  Richard Strauss
Written  1910
Der Rosenkavalier httpswwwmetoperaorgmetoperafilesseason2016

Premiere  26 January 1911 (1911-01-26) Königliches Opernhaus, Dresden
First performance  Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Arias  Ein ernster Tag, ein grosser Tag, Mein lieber Hippolyte
Characters  Princess Marie Thérèse von Werdenberg, Valzacchi
Librettists  Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Harry Graf Kessler
Similar  Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos, Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Arabella

Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose or The Rose-Bearer), Op. 59, is a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to an original German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is loosely adapted from the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai and Molière’s comedy Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. It was first performed at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden on 26 January 1911 under the direction of Max Reinhardt, Ernst von Schuch conducting. Until the premiere the working title was Ochs von Lerchenau. (The choice of the name Ochs is not accidental, for in German Ochs means ox, which depicts the character of the Baron throughout the opera.)


The opera has four main characters: the aristocratic Marschallin, her very young lover Count Octavian Rofrano, her coarse cousin Baron Ochs and Ochs' prospective fiancée Sophie von Faninal, daughter of a rich bourgeois. At the Marschallin's suggestion Ochs gets Octavian to act as his Rosenkavalier and present the ceremonial silver rose to Sophie. But when Octavian meets Sophie they fall in love at first sight. By a comic intrigue they get rid of Ochs with the help of the Marschallin, who then yields Octavian to the younger woman. Although a comic opera, Der Rosenkavalier also operates at a deeper level. Conscious of the difference in age between herself and Octavian, the Marschallin muses in bittersweet fashion over the passing of time, growing old and men's inconstancy.

There are many recordings of the opera and it is regularly performed.


Der Rosenkavalier premiered in 1911 in Dresden under the baton of Ernst von Schuch, who had previously conducted the premieres of Strauss's Feuersnot, Salome and Elektra; Georg Toller was originally supposed to produce the production, but he backed out and was replaced by Max Reinhardt. The event was a pinnacle in the career of soprano Margarethe Siems (Strauss’s first Chrysothemis) who portrayed the Marschallin. Minnie Nast played Sophie, and Eva von der Osten was Octavian.

The reaction to the 1911 premiere was nothing short of triumphant. The opera was a complete success with the public and was a great financial boon for the house; it is reported that at the time of the première, tickets were sold out almost immediately. The response from music critics was overall very positive, although some responded negatively to Strauss's use of waltzes, a music form practically unknown during the era when the story of the opera takes place. Despite this, the opera became one of the composer's most popular works during his lifetime and the opera remains a part of the standard repertoire today.

International success

Der Rosenkavalier quickly became an important part of the international opera repertoire. Less than two months after its premiere, the work was performed for the first time in Italy at La Scala on 1 March 1911 using an Italian translation. The cast, led by conductor Tullio Serafin, included Lucrezia Bori in the breeches role of Octavian, Ines Maria Ferraris as Sophie, and Pavel Ludikar as Baron Ochs. The opera's Austrian premiere was given by the Vienna State Opera on the following 8 April under the baton of Schuch with Marie Gutheil-Schoder as Octavian, and Richard Mayr as Baron Ochs. The work reached the Teatro Costanzi in Rome seven months later on 14 November with Egisto Tango conducting Hariclea Darclée as the Marschallin and Conchita Supervía as Octavian.

The United Kingdom premiere of Der Rosenkavalier occurred at the Royal Opera House in London on 29 January 1913. Thomas Beecham conducted the performance and the cast included Margarethe Siems as the Marschallin. The United States premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera on the following 9 December in a production conducted by Alfred Hertz. The cast included Frieda Hempel as the Marschallin, Margarethe Arndt-Ober as Octavian, and Anna Case as Sophie. A number of Italian theatres produced the work for the first time in the 1920s, including the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi (1921), Teatro Regio di Torino (1923), Teatro di San Carlo (1925), and the Teatro Carlo Felice (1926).

Der Rosenkavalier reached Monaco on 21 March 1926 when it was performed by the Opéra de Monte-Carlo at the Salle Garnier in a French translation. The performance starred Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi as the Marschallin and Vanni Marcoux as Faninal. 1926 also saw the premiere of a film of the opera. The French premiere of the opera itself came in 1927 at the Palais Garnier in Paris on 11 February 1927 with conductor Philippe Gaubert. The cast included Germaine Lubin as Octavian. Brussels heard the work for the first time at La Monnaie on 15 December 1927 with Clara Clairbert as Sophie.

The Salzburg Festival mounted Der Rosenkavalier for the first time on 12 August 1929 in a production conducted by Clemens Krauss. The cast included Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin and Marta Fuchs as Annina. Other first productions at notable houses, opera festivals, and music ensembles include: Teatro Massimo (5 March 1932), Philadelphia Orchestra (30 November 1934), San Francisco Opera (16 October 1940), Philadelphia Opera Company (2 December 1941), Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (2 May 1942), La Fenice (20 April 1943), Festival dei Due Mondi (19 June 1964), Teatro Comunale di Bologna (19 November 1965), Lyric Opera of Chicago (25 September 1970), and the New York City Opera (19 November 1973) among many others. It was first presented in Australia as a radio broadcast on 7 January 1936, featuring Florence Austral; however, the first Australian stage production was not until 1972, by the Australian Opera in Melbourne, conducted by Sir Edward Downes.

Recent performance history

Der Rosenkavalier remains a part of the standard opera repertoire to this day. According to Operabase, a total of 316 performances of 58 productions in 44 cities have been given since January 2013 or are planned to be given in the next year or two. The tour-de-force soprano role of the Marschallin has in recent decades been a star vehicle for a number of notable singers, including Dame Gwyneth Jones, Dame Felicity Lott, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and Renée Fleming.

Role progression

Richard Strauss was enamoured of the female voice, and Der Rosenkavalier is famed for the beautiful music of the three female-voice roles which comprise its protagonists: Sophie, Octavian, and the Marschallin. This love triangle culminates in the exquisite trio and duet which end the opera. Some singers have enjoyed performing more than one of these three roles during the course of their careers.

Some sopranos such as Lucia Popp, Edith Mathis, Valerie Masterson, and Elizabeth Harwood have gone from the light lyric soprano role of young Sophie to the deeper and more dramatic role of the Marschallin. A few singers such as Elisabeth Schumann and Margarethe Arndt-Ober have progressed from the high soprano of Sophie to the mezzo-soprano role of Octavian. Some such as Gwyneth Jones, Christa Ludwig, Tiana Lemnitz, and Elisabeth Grümmer have gone from Octavian to the Marschallin. Singers who performed all three roles during their careers include Evelyn Lear, Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Söderström, Lisa Della Casa, and Sena Jurinac.


Time: 1740s, in the first years of the reign of Empress Maria Theresa Place: Vienna

Act 1

The Marschallin's bedroom

Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg (the Marschallin, the title given to a Field Marshal's wife) and her much younger lover, Count Octavian Rofrano, muse on their love together in the Marschallin's bedroom ("Wie du warst! Wie du bist"). To avoid scandal, Octavian hides when a small black boy, Mohammed, brings the Marschallin's breakfast. During breakfast loud voices are heard in the garderobe and not the main door. The Marschallin believes that it is her husband who has returned unexpectedly from a hunting trip and has Octavian hide behind the bed. He reappears disguised as a chambermaid, "Mariandel" ("Befehl'n fürstli' Gnad'n, i bin halt noch nit recht..."), and tries to sneak away through the garderobe. But the Marschallin's country cousin Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau has unexpectedly entered through that same door. He tells the Marschallin about his engagement to Sophie ("Selbstverständlich empfängt mich Ihro Gnaden"), the daughter of a wealthy merchant. The Baron is counting on Sophie's fortune to alleviate his own financial distress. After boorishly describing his personal pastime of seducing peasant girls on his estate, he asks the Marschallin to recommend a young man to serve as his Rosenkavalier ("Knight of the Rose"), who will deliver the traditional silver engagement rose to Sophie. She suggests Octavian. When Ochs sees the young count's picture, he notices the count's resemblance to the chambermaid "Mariandel", and infers that she must be Octavian's illegitimate sister. Ochs boasts that nobility should be served by nobility, which leads to a confession that he has an illegitimate son working for him. The coarse Ochs propositions the "chambermaid". Octavian plays coy and leaves at the first chance.

The room then fills with supplicants to the Princess ("Drei arme adelige Waisen"). An Italian tenor sent by the Portuguese ambassador serenades the Marschallin ("Di rigori armato"), while Ochs works out the marriage contract with the Marschallin's notary. Two Italian intriguers, Valzacchi and Annina, try to sell the Princess the latest scandal sheets, but she coldly declines. Rudely interrupting the tenor's song, Ochs tells the notary to demand a dower from Sophie's family (having confused dower with dowry). The notary attempts to explain that such is impossible under the law. Valzacchi and Annina now offer their services to Ochs. He asks whether they know anything about the Princess's "maid". They don't, but they assure him that they do. Amidst all the activity, the Marschallin remarks to her hairdresser: "My dear Hippolyte, today you have made me look like an old woman." ("Mein lieber Hippolyte").

When all have left, the Marschallin, reminded of her own early marriage by Ochs's young bride, sadly ponders her fleeting youth and the fickleness of men ("Da geht er hin..."). By this time Octavian returns (in men's clothes) ("Ach, du bist wieder da"), she has realized that one day he will leave her ("Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding"). She muses on the passage of time (a clock is heard chiming thirteen times), and turns Octavian away. After he has left, she suddenly realizes that she has forgotten to kiss him goodbye, and sends some footmen after him; however, it is too late, he is gone. The Marschallin summons her page to take the silver rose to Octavian to deliver to Sophie. After Mohammed departs, she stares pensively into her hand mirror (or similar) as the curtain falls.

Act 2

The von Faninals' home

Herr von Faninal and Sophie await the arrival of the Rosenkavalier (Knight of the Rose), Octavian ("Ein ernster Tag, ein grosser Tag!"). Faninal exults in the happy prospect of being connected with the nobility by his daughter's advantageous marriage to the Baron. Following tradition, Faninal departs before the Knight appears. Sophie frets over her approaching marriage with a man she has never met as her duenna, Marianne, reports on the approach of Octavian ("In dieser feierlichen Stunde der Prüfung"). Octavian arrives with great pomp, dressed all in silver. He presents the silver rose to Sophie in an elaborate ceremony. The two young people fall in love at first sight, and they sing a beautiful duet ("Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren...").

During a chaperoned conversation, Sophie and Octavian exchange greetings and pleasantries (in this conversation she reveals Octavian's full name: Octavian Maria Ehrenreich Bonaventura Fernand Hyacinth Rofrano, aka Quinquin in intimacy). Ochs enters with Sophie's father ("Jetzt aber kommt mein Herr Zukünftiger"). The Baron speaks familiarly with Octavian (though they have never officially met), examines Sophie like chattel and generally behaves like a cad, also "revealing" that Octavian has illegitimate family. Sophie is disgusted and appalled by the prospect of being his wife. He exits. Sophie starts to weep, and Octavian promises to help her ("Mit Ihren Augen voll Tränen"). He embraces her and they sing another love-duet, but they are discovered by Ochs's Italian spies Valzacchi and Annina, who hold them and shout loudly for Ochs. Ochs is only amused, considering the much younger Octavian no threat, but Octavian's temper is raised enough to challenge the bull-headed Ochs to a duel. He jabs Och's arm with his sword, drawing blood; Och screams in pain and terror. Faninal and other members of the household come running in. Sophie tells her father that she will never marry Ochs, but her father insists, and threatens to send her to a convent. Octavian is thrown out, and Sophie is sent to her room. As Ochs is left alone on the divan with his wounded arm in a sling, he begins to raise his spirits with a glass of port. Annina enters with a letter for Ochs from "Mariandel", the "chambermaid" from Act 1, actually Octavian in disguise, asking to meet him for a tryst. The now recovered and drunk Ochs, in anticipation of his imminent meeting, dances around the stage to one of the opera's many ironic and wry waltzes. Annina hints that he should give her a tip for bringing the message; he puts her off, and she silently swears revenge ("Da lieg' ich!").

Act 3

A private room in an inn

Valzacchi and Annina have switched alliances and are now helping Octavian prepare a trap for the Baron. There is far more than meets the eye about the room that Valzacchi has rented for the Baron's tryst, and in a pantomime all the preparations to trap the Baron and foil his engagement with Sophie are seen.

Ochs and "Mariandel" arrive for a rendez-vous. Ochs tries to seduce the seemingly willing chambermaid, though he is disturbed by her resemblance to Octavian. The guilt-ridden baron catches glimpses of the heads of Octavian's conspirators as they pop out of secret doors. A woman (Annina in disguise) rushes in claiming that Ochs is her husband and the father of her children, all of whom rush in crying "Papa! Papa!" The confusion grows and the police arrive, and to avoid a scandal, Ochs claims that "Mariandel" is his fiancée Sophie. Octavian lets the Police Inspector in on the trick, and the Inspector plays along. In the meantime Ochs tries to pull his noble rank to no avail, claiming that "Mariandel" is under his protection. Furious to be enmeshed in the scandal, Faninal arrives and sends for Sophie to clear their names. Sophie arrives and asks Ochs to leave her alone. Just as Ochs is completely befuddled and embarrassed, the Marschallin enters. The Police Inspector recognizes her, having previously served under her husband. The Marschallin sends the police and all the others away. Ochs still tries to claim Sophie for himself after having realized the truth about the Marschallin and Octavian/Mariandel's relationship, even attempting to blackmail the Marschallin, but is ordered to leave gracefully. Salvaging what is left of his dignity. Ochs finally leaves, pursued by various bill collectors.

The Marschallin, Sophie, and Octavian are left alone. The Marschallin recognizes that the day she so feared has come, as Octavian hesitates between the two women (Trio: Marie Theres'! / Hab' mir's gelobt). In the emotional climax of the opera, the Marschallin gracefully releases Octavian, encouraging him to follow his heart and love Sophie. She then withdraws elegantly to the next room to talk with Faninal. As soon as she is gone, Sophie and Octavian run to each other's arms. Faninal and the Marschallin return to find the lovers locked in an embrace. After a few bittersweet glances to her lost lover, the Marschallin departs with Faninal. Sophie and Octavian follow after another brief but ecstatic love duet (Ist ein Traum / Spür' nur dich), and the opera ends with little Mohammed running in to retrieve Sophie's dropped handkerchief, and racing out again after the departing nobility.


Strauss's score is written for the following:

  • Woodwind: 3 flutes (III doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn (also doubling on 3rd oboe), 3 clarinets (III also clarinet in D & E flat), basset horn (doubles bass clarinet in B flat and A), 3 bassoons (III also contrabassoon)
  • Brass: 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba
  • Percussion: timpani, bass drum and cymbals, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, ratchet, tenor drum, snare drum, jingle bells, castanets
  • celesta, 2 harps
  • Strings: 16 violins I, 16 violins II, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 double basses
  • Off-stage: 2 flutes, oboe, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, trumpet, drum, harmonium, piano, strings
  • Rosenkavalier Suite

    In 1945 Strauss allowed an orchestral Rosenkavalier Suite to be published, but he was apparently not involved in creating it. It is likely that conductor Artur Rodziński arranged it, as he had conducted the Suite's first performance, which was in October 1944 by the New York Philharmonic.

    The suite begins with the opera's orchestral prelude, depicting the night of passion (vividly portrayed by whooping horns) between the Marschallin and Octavian. Next comes the appearance of Octavian as the "Rosenkavalier", which is depicted in tender music; the sight of him looking so young makes the Marschallin realise that he will soon leave her for a younger woman. There follows the duet between Octavian and Sophie (oboe and horn) – in which their love for each other becomes ever more obvious, but this is abruptly interrupted by the discordant music associated with the clumsy arrival of Ochs. Next the violins tentatively introduce the first waltz, which is followed by another given out by the solo violin, before the whole orchestra settles into waltz mode. A general pause and a violin solo leads into the nostalgic music where the Marschallin sadly realises she has lost Octavian. Then comes its ecstatic climax. The work closes with a singularly robust waltz, depicting Ochs at his most pompous, and a boisterous coda newly composed for the suite.


    Hofmannsthal's libretto is a combination of different forms of the German language. Members of the nobility speak in very refined language, often archaic (set to the time of the opera) and very courteous. In more intimate circles they use a more familiar style of speech (du). For instance, the conversations between Octavian and the Marschallin in the first act use the familiar "you" but switch back and forth between more formal speech (Sie) and the familiar du, as well as the intermediate (and now obsolete) Er.

    Some productions of the opera include a glossary in the programme to help clarify the contextual meaning of the language used, which is mostly lost in translation. Baron Ochs makes clumsy, mannered attempts at using refined or flamboyant language, making use of non-German words and phrases such as corpo di Bacco! (meaning "by Bacchus' body!" in Italian), some of which he mispronounces. The language used by Octavian when impersonating Mariandel, and by other non-noble characters, is an Austrian dialect, whose connotations are difficult for non-native speakers to grasp. The German used by the Italians, Valzacchi and Annina, is also very broken and marked by Italian accentuations.

    In English translations of the opera, these dialects have been accounted for with varying degrees of rigor; the Chandos Highlights version, for example, uses only standard British English.

    Grainger's Ramble

    Percy Grainger wrote an elaborate and complex piano transcription of a theme from this opera. The Ramble on the Last Love Duet in Der Rosenkavalier is one of Grainger's more complex piano transcriptions, with many sumptuous ornamentations and harmonic twists and turns.


    Der Rosenkavalier Wikipedia