Today we’re listening to…
The final trio between The Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie from Act III of Richard Strauss's German opera Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose). 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).
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 its showcasing of 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). There have been many beautiful interpretations done over the years, which we'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.
Der Rosenkavalier may have been meant solely as a comic opera, but it has a great deal to say, in an earnest way about grace. Although, I don’t believe Der Rosenkavalier is an opera about a woman who’s concerned about aging (the Marschallin is only 32 years old in this opera!), rather about letting go gracefully.
📺 🎧 Watch and listen here (6 minute listen), Trio from Act III 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.
The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.
Set in 1740s Vienna, Der Rosenkavalier first premiered at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden in 1911. It became Strauss’s most famous opera during his lifetime. Today it is one of the top 40 most-performed operas worldwide.
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 she also 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 own arranged marriage years prior. She chooses Octavian to be the Baron’s rose-bearer, appointing him to carry out the custom of delivering 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.
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),
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