It was a great night at the Cincinnati Opera last Saturday. An opera I’d never seen before, set in Vienna and by Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, consumed a full four hours, and a fair number of occupied seats were empty before the end. The house never approached full, even in the beginning.
Which was too bad – this is easily the most personal and most real opera I have ever attended, as well as one of the funniest. The Marschallin, a princess and one of the leading citizens of Vienna, wakes in bed with her young lover, who later slips away and returns dressed as a chambermaid – when Baron Ochs, the brute, shows up to ask the Marschallin for assistance with his coming marriage – and gropes the pseudo-chambermaid outrageously. Finally alone, the Marschallin speaks frankly of her waning youth, and tells her teen-aged lover, Count Octavian, that he will leave her one day – tomorrow or the day after. She grieves, but feels / knows this to be true.
There is much to laugh about in this romantic comedy, though that first scene is the high point for the Marschallin. The lout-ish noble would-be husband is disgusting in every way – and he feels he’s doing his fiancee a favor, since Sophie is a commoner. Octavian presents the Silver Rose, and he and Sophie fall in love in about 6 seconds. Ochs is groping her just as outrageously. She is also smart and angry, and fights with Ochs and then with her father – and then caves. Already in love with her, Octavian challenges the brute Ochs (and his back up thugs) to a duel, and wounds him.
This is slapstick all the way, in fancy dress. The last act brings back the pseudo-chambermaid to use Ochs’ disgusting behavior against him. The stage is filled with outraged Viennese citizens, police, a commander, a scorned mother and her many kids, and finally all the nobles involved.
It ends with a beautiful three-part song, with the Marschallin canceling Ochs’ engagement, and giving Octavian to Sophie. So real, so sad, so beautiful.