Opera Guide #1: Der RosenKavalier

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

The following is intended to serve as an introduction to opera for those with little or no experience attending this, one of the most comprehensive art forms. Simply stated, opera is drama set to music in which the actors “sing” their parts. It involves staging like a play and often includes poetry, graphic arts, costumes, dance, set design, lighting and other special effects. And all, of course, usually done “live” at the moment you are seeing it. Done well, opera can be one of the most spectacular and moving entertainment experiences possible. While opera excerpts are available on line, a full performance produces the the best effect. The Metropolitan Opera Company produces the “Met Live in HD” series in which selected operas, live or recorded, are shown in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and worldwide. For your local schedule see: www.metoperafamily.org
OPERA BUFFS’ SHORT GUIDE:

A) Suspension of disbelief – Audiences often have to disregard the superficial aspects of the stories, characters, settings, etc. in order to reach the deeper emotions and psychological meaning inherent in great opera. The opera goer seeks to be “transported” from the “here and now” to a higher, more receptive mental state. Questions like “What’s that fat lady singing about?” or “Why does that big guy have horns on his helmet?” may signal a refusal to suspend disbelief and to get into the spirit of the opera.
B) Know the story – Since most of opera is not in English, it makes sense to know beforehand the story (libretto) unless the performance has subtitles—It will greatly enhance the experience!
C) Patience will be rewarded – Since many operas are long, often 3 hours or more, it takes longer to build to a climax. Be patient, most great operas will eventually reach moments of totally inspired music making and it will be well worth the wait!
DER ROSENKAVALIER (The Rose Bearer or The Knight of the Rose) by Richard Strauss. Though the much of the music is lively, the opera’s best music happens to be slow and “dreamy”.  The story takes place in Vienna in the 1740’s:
The Main Characters:
1) Marie Therese (soprano) – The Marschallin (the title given to the Field Marshal’s wife) who lives on a vast estate. She is depicted as being older, more worldly, but still attractive.
2) Count Octavian (soprano) – the Marschallin’s young lover (a “trousers” role – an operatic tradition in which a female plays a younger male role)
3) Sophie (soprano) – the pretty young daughter of a wealthy merchant
4) Baron Ochs (baritone) – the Marschallin’s boorish country cousin
THE STORY:

A) The opera begins in the Marschallin’s bedroom the morning after she and Octavian have spent a night of illicit love together while her husband is away on a hunting trip. The Marschallin reflects on how she is getting older and may eventually have to resign herself to losing Octavian to a younger woman.

B) The couple hear a commotion downstairs as the Marschallin’s uncouth/boorish cousin, Baron Ochs, barges in for a visit. Octavian runs for cover hoping not to be discovered.

C) Baron Ochs announces that he is going to be married to the young Sophie and asks the Marschallin if she can suggest someone to be the rose bearer (a betrothal ritual in which a courier “presents” a silver rose to the intended bride in order to “seal the deal”).

D) The Marschallin mischieviously suggests that she knows a young man, Octavian (hiding in the closet), who could fill the bill nicely.
To make a long story shorter:
E) Octavian does indeed serve as Baron Ochs “Rose Bearer” to the lovely young Sophie. However, as soon as Sophie and Octavian see each other they fall immediately in love:
Scene: “The Presentation of the Rose” – Octavian and Sophie discover each other.

F) The remainder of the opera is about how Octavian, Sophie, and the Marschallin try to hoodwink Baron Ochs into giving up Sophie as his intended bride in order to free her to marry Octavian.

H) True love eventually triumphs: The way is cleared for Sophie and Octavian to fulfill their love with the Maschallin’s blessing:
Final scene – Trio: Sophie, Octavian, and the Marschallin sing about love, both gained and lost.

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