The Knight of the Rose
Performed in the original German with Czech and English surtitles.
Time is a strange thing, it doesn’t change things.
Probably no one expected after such dramatic and – for his period – controversial works as Elektra and Salome that Richard Strauss would produce a comic opera interlaced with the rhythms of Viennese waltz. The libretto by Strauss court collaborator Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was freely inspired by the works of the gentlemen Louvet de Couvrai and Molière, features an amusing plot about an elderly Baron named Ochs who wants to marry a young, rich girl; his plans are foiled by the fact that his chosen Sophie falls in love with a certain Octavian after he gives her a ceremonial silver rose in the Baron´s name. Its classification as a comic opera may be misleading, however: the intertwining of the layers of Viennese society in the middle of the 18th century is a source of many humorous situations but the work also features aspects which are less funny and more concerned with the human condition. These mainly arise in connection with the character of the ageing marshal – the desire to be young and the fear of growing old, infidelity, and selflessness in love.
Premiere 29 th November 2019, Janáček Theatre.
Synopsis of the Opera
Dawn is breaking… The Marschallin wakes up aft er a night spent with Octavian, Count Rofrano. Her young lover is asleep and the Marschallin is saddened by the merciless passing of time. Octavian also awakes, and, with youthful gusto, tries to call back the night – he does not wish the morning to arrive, as it means he shall have to share his beloved with others. Their conversation is interrupted by voices from the anteroom. Their initial panic that the Marschallin’s husband has returned from hunting is replaced by relief when they fi nd out that the noise is caused by her cousin, Baron Ochs von Lerchenau, who is there on an uninvited visit. In order not to compromise his lover, Octavian puts on a maid’s dress and pretends to be a servant, Mariandel. Ochs, who has come to ask the Marschallin to arrange for a bridesman for his upcoming wedding to Sophie von Faninal, makes a persistent effort to flirt with Mariandel. The morning reception begins, and a hairdresser, a hatter, petitioners for alms and an Italian singer all appear, along with a pair of Italian fraudsters, Valzacchi and Annina, who offer their services. Ochs discusses the terms of the marriage contract with his cousin’s notary and argues about Sophie’s dowry, as he is marrying her only because of money. Valzacchi and Annina promise Ochs that they will arrange for him to meet Mariandel. The Marschallin agrees to arrange for Ochs’s engagement gift – a silver rose – to be handed over to Sophie by Count Rofrano. Everyone leaves and the Marschallin begins thinking about how she was married away as a very young girl who had just returned from a monastery. Octavian returns and finds her in a pensive mood. She knows their love will end soon and that Octavian will leave her for a younger girl.
The bride-to-be, Sophie, is impatiently awaiting the arrival of a cavalier with a rose and the bridegroom. She is determined to get married because only then will she have a place in society as a woman. Octavian arrives with the rose and they both immediately feel aff ection for one another. Faninal returns with Ochs, who off ends Sophie with his haughty and rude behaviour right from the start. The Baron then leaves to sign the wedding contract and Sophie begs Octavian for help. Their confession of love is interrupted by Valzacchi and Annina, who rouse the whole house. The argument which ensues turns into a duel in which Octavian wounds Ochs slightly. The latter makes a scene and lets Faninal and a doctor fuss over him. In the meantime, Octavian bribes Annina to hand over a letter to Ochs with an invitation to a meeting from Mariandel. Ochs refuses to pay Annina for the delivery and makes both of the Italians angry with him.
A trap is prepared for Ochs at the inn. He arrives with Mariandel – who is Octavian in disguise – and tries to get “her” to go to bed with him. However, the wine he’s drunk and the unmistakable similarity between Mariandel and Octavian prove a distraction for Ochs, as do the conspirators, who keep spying on them. Everything culminates with Annina storming into the room pretending to be Ochs’s wife, accompanied by several children who hang on to Ochs crying “Daddy, Daddy!” Ochs calls the police and the commissioner arrives. The situation is not developing well for Ochs, and in his attempts to explain what he is doing in the room with a young girl, he claims that Mariandel is his fiancée, Sophie. Faninal, for whom Octavian has sent, arrives to witness all the confusion. With the arrival of the Marschallin, the Baron realizes that he has been deceived and on her advice exits the field “like a cavalier”. The Marschallin knows that Sophie and Octavian are in love with each other and that it is time to let Octavian go. After all, she did promise that she would love not only him but also his affection for another when the moment comes. She departs with Faninal, leaving the young couple to their love.