Opera Daily 🎶 — A Timeless Trio
This week's Opera Daily features the final trio between the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie from Act 3 of Der Rosenkavalier
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Today, we're diving into the world of Richard Strauss, a German composer best known for his operas, including Salome, Elektra, and the one we're focusing on today: Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose).
Set in 1740s Vienna, Der Rosenkavalier premiered at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden in 1911, quickly becoming Strauss’s most famous opera during his lifetime. A perfect blend of comedy, romance, and emotional depth, the opera owes much of its richness to librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss’s close collaborator. Der Rosenkavalier showcases their combined talents in exploring themes of love, loss, and the passage of time.
The opera draws inspiration from Mozart’s comic operas, paying homage to the master composer while highlighting Strauss’s unique musical voice. A prominent feature throughout the opera is the waltz theme, popular in 18th-century Vienna, effectively capturing the era's atmosphere and mood.
Der Rosenkavalier also stands out for its innovative use of the orchestra to depict character and emotion. Intricate and lush harmonies create an immersive listening experience that remains unforgettable.
One such moment is the famous Presentation of the Rose scene, which is a pivotal moment in the story and a highlight for many listeners.
In today’s post, we’re listening to the final trio between the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie from Act 3 of Der Rosenkavalier. We are listening to soprano Renée Fleming, singing the role of the Marschallin who loves Octavian (Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano) enough to give him up so that he can marry Sophie, the young woman he loves (Christine Schäfer, soprano).
🎧 Listen here (6 minute listen): Trio from Act 3 of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Renée Fleming (Marschallin), Christine Schäfer (Sophie), Susan Graham (Octavian). The Metropolitan Opera, 2010. Production, Nathaniel Merrill, Conductor, Edo de Waart.
You have to sit through a lot of opera to get to this fantastic moment (3 hours+), but there is no finer music in all of opera than this finale.
Der Rosenkavalier is known for showcasing the female voice, as its protagonists (light lyric soprano Sophie, mezzo-soprano Octavian, and the mature dramatic, spinto soprano Marschallin) are written to be portrayed by women. Some singers have performed two or three of these roles throughout their careers (soprano Lotte Lehmann did all three). Many beautiful interpretations have been performed over the years, which I've shared below.
The trio begins with three simultaneous soliloquies. Confusion and remorse gradually move into acceptance and grace as the Marschallin steps aside, letting go of her younger love and younger self, and blesses the union of Octavian and Sophie.
Although, I don't believe Der Rosenkavalier is an opera about a woman concerned about aging (the Marschallin is only 32 years old in this opera!), but rather about letting go gracefully.
Time is passing for the Marschallin, and her affair with the young Count Octavian makes her feel that more than ever. She is not the young girl she remembers but does not know how to continue as this more mature woman.
When her cousin, Baron Ochs von Lerchenau, announces his engagement to the young Sophie von Faninal, she remembers her arranged marriage years prior. She chooses Octavian to be the Baron's rose-bearer, appointing him to deliver the silver rose to the Baron's bride-to-be.
The Baron’s plans to marry the young heiress are spotted when Octavian arrives bearing the rose and steals Sophie’s heart. The Baron's behavior and overall bad reputation have not made him popular, so, with the help of several members of the household, a plot is devised to teach him a lesson.
The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.
Here are some other interpretations of the piece:
LISTEN Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig and Teresa Stich-Randall, with Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra
WATCH & LISTEN Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade, Renée Fleming, New Year's Eve Concert in Berlin, Germany, 1992, Claudio Abbado, conductor, The Berliner Philharmoniker [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
WATCH & LISTEN Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Katherine Ciesinski & Kathleen Battle, Gala of Stars, American Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, conductor, Hosted by Beverly Sills, NYC, 1984
WATCH & LISTEN Anne Sophie von Otter, Barbara Bonney, and Felicity Lott, Vienna State Opera, 1994
WATCH & LISTEN Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Agnes Baltsa, and Janet Perry, recorded live at the Salzburg Festival in 1984, Vienna Philharmonic Herbert von Karajan, conductor
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Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured a soprano aria from Act 2 of the Italian opera Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti.
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As a footnote the NYCity Opera did the NY Premiere of a post World War II opera that included a post-apocalyptic Jazz infused Trio to end his opera (in near desolation) as a coda to Strauss. He committed suicide before it was done here.