The Knight of the Rose, Opera by R. Strauss
Having shocked his public with Salome (1905), because of its subject matter, and Elektra (1909), due to its tonal assault on the senses, The Knight of the Rose, with its comedy, hidden identities and swirling waltzes, was the last thing anyone expected from Richard Strauss.
Premiered on 26 January 1911 at the Royal Opera House in Dresden, Der Rosenkavalier is an opera that in a less capable writer’s hand might have ended up a farce, but which, thanks to the brilliance of Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, became a reflection on the loss of youth instead.
In the narrative, the Marschallin, Princess Marie Thérèse, consents to her young lover Octavian, Count Rofrano, acting as matchmaker between the pompous and penniless Baron Ochs and the beautiful and wealthy Sophie. However, when Octavian presents Sophie with a rose made from silver - a sign of the Baron’s devotion - it is the handsome Count she falls for.
Strauss’ decision to cast a woman as Octavian was a stroke of genius that opera companies, including the Wiener Staatsoper, honour to this day. His interest, as his protagonist slips with ease from one female disguise to another, was not to arouse the prurient curiosity of his audience, but to render the age gap between the Count and the Marschallin all the more credible.
With its return to tonality, the music in Der Rosenkavalier is accessible yet distinctively Strauss, with motifs that are years ahead of their time; equally, the outcome to the tale, with the magnanimous Marschallin working with Octavian to reveal the Baron for the lech he truly is, shows its composer’s storytelling at its most modern.