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Der Rosenkavalier

by Richard Strauss


[This synopsis, like my others, is very, very brief. The reason is that I find the normal programme note much too long, and needlessly detailed and complicated. What I want is more of an overview. If I’ve read an overview – a sort of synopsis of a synopsis – I find that, particularly with the help of surtitles, there is then absolutely no need for a blow-by-blow description of the plot.]



A richly romantic comedy about love, class, sex, infidelity, and ageing - written and composed in the early 20th century, but set in 18th century Vienna.


There are four main characters:


- the aristocratic field-marshal’s wife (the Marschallin) who is in her 30s and therefore old;


- her young lover, aged 17, also aristocratic, the Count Octavian, played by a mezzo-soprano: a “trouser” role;


- her ghastly, uncivilized, over-sexed country-cousin, the Baron Ochs; and


- Sophie, the young daughter of the rich, not so aristocratic, Herr von Faninal.


Baron Ochs invades the bedroom of the Marschallin too early in the morning when she is about to say goodbye to her lover, Octavian. The latter has quickly to disguise himself - as a chambermaid.


The Baron wants to ask a favour of his cousin, namely to find him a suitable “Rosenkavalier” to deliver on his behalf the traditional silver rose to his fiancée, Sophie. The Marschallin suggests Octavian, who the Baron readily accepts, noting his similarity to the chambermaid, who he fancies.


Octavian duly delivers the silver rose to Sophie and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they fall in love. She decides that she will never marry the dreadful Ochs.


Octavian challenges Ochs to a duel. Ochs gets lightly scratched, but is enlivened by receiving a note suggesting a tryst with the chambermaid.


Octavian, in league with two Italian intriguers, who are really being employed by Ochs but readily switch sides, organizes the tryst as an elaborate practical joke on Ochs at a local inn. It all gets very confused. In the end, the Marschallin graciously decides to release Octavian so that he can take up with Sophie.


At the end of the opera, Octavian and Sophie leave in a carriage, but she finds that she has left her handkerchief behind. Mahomet, the Marschallin’s “little black page”, runs back to look for it, finds it, and runs back to the carriage as the curtain falls.








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