Der Rosenkavalier synopsis
Music by Richard Strauss
Libretto by Hugo von Hoffmansthal
First performed: 1911
The Marschallin's bedroom
It is early morning and the Marschallin is with her lover, the seventeen-year-old Count Octavian Rofrano, and he has to hide when the page Mohammed brings her breakfast. Octavian proudly compares himself to the Feldmarschall, who is away hunting, and is upset at the thought that the Marschallin dreamt of her husband during the night. When noises are heard outside she imagines that he has returned unexpectedly. Octavian hides again until the Marschallin recognizes with relief that it is the voice of her cousin Baron Ochs. Much to her amusement Octavian emerges from hiding disguised as a chambermaid and she tells him to leave the palace in this disguise – but to return as soon as possible in his own clothes.
Ochs bursts in. True to form he is immediately attracted to the chambermaid (whom the Marschallin introduces as "Mariandel", a country girl). Ochs explains that he is in Vienna to marry Sophie von Faninal, the daughter of a recently ennobled financier in failing health. According to custom the bride must be presented with a silver rose as a betrothal pledge, and he asks the Marschallin to recommend a young nobleman to be his "Rosenkavalier".
The Major-domo announces that a crowd is waiting to be received . The Marschallin is amused to notice how much attention Ochs is paying to Mariandel, even during his courtship, and he, unabashed, relates his adventures with country girls, finishing with the suggestion that Mariandel should become the maid of his future wife. This gives the Marschallin the idea of proposing Octavian as the Rosenkavalier and she shows the Baron a miniature of the young count, from which he notes with pleasure the resemblance to Mariandel. He draws a parallel to himself and Leopold, his bastard son.
The room fills up with petitioners seeking the patronage of the Marschallin, with tradesmen and with Ochs's retinue. The Baron consults the lawyer about his marriage contract but loses his temper. The Marschallin chides her hairdresser for making her look old and dismisses everyone. Before he goes Ochs asks two dubious Italians, Valzacchi and Annina, to gather information about Mariandel, and gives the Marschallin the silver rose.
These events have stirred the Marschallin's memories of herself as a young bride forced into a loveless marriage. When Octavian returns she tries to explain her sense of passing time and warns him that he will leave her sooner or later for someone younger. Octavian is confused and wounded by her attitude. She realizes that he has gone without even a kiss and instructs Mohammed to deliver the silver rose to him.
The reception hall of Faninal's town house
Herr von Faninal and his household are in a state of intense excitement at the imminent arrival of the Rosenkavalier and of the bridegroom himself. According to etiquette Faninal must collect the Baron while Octavian presents the silver rose. Sophie is thus alone with her chaperone when Octavian enters, and immediately they feel attracted to each other.
Faninal presents Sophie to his future son-in-law. Ochs is oblivious that his boorish behaviour repels her and withdraws with the lawyer to finalize the terms of the contract. She and Octavian confess their love for each other, and she begs for his help in freeing herself from the marriage. Annina and Valzacchi spy on them and summon Ochs.
The Baron is initially unconcerned when Octavian tells him that Sophie will not accept him. Ochs is forced into a duel, however, and is quickly wounded – although the fuss he makes is out of all proportion to the injury. Faninal is horrified and orders Sophie to marry the Baron or enter a convent. Octavian is dismissed but as he goes he enlists the Italians to work for him instead of Ochs. Under the influence of some wine the Baron mellows, and he is in a genial mood when Annina brings a message from Mariandel asking for a rendezvous. He promises to send a reply after dinner.
A private room at an inn
Valzacchi prepares the scene for the rendezvous, before Octavian, once again disguised as Mariandel, sits down to supper with Ochs, attended by Leopold. The Baron is thrown as much by "her" likeness to Octavian as by strange interruptions from Valzacchi's conspirators. Eventually Octavian signals for the entrance of Annina, dressed as a widow and claiming to be Ochs's wife. To quell the uproar which follows Ochs calls the police, but the commissar believes neither his rank nor his story that Mariandel is his fiancée, Sophie von Faninal. No sooner has he said this than Faninal appears, summoned by Octavian and Valzacchi. Naturally Faninal brings in his real daughter to prove Ochs's story to be nonsense before he collapses from the shock and has to be carried to another room. Meanwhile Octavian reveals Mariandel's true identity to the commissar.
Everyone is astonished when the Marschallin appears at the request of Ochs's son, Leopold. Octavian realizes that his joke has gone astray. Although Ochs imagines that he will be able to smooth matters over with Sophie, the Marschallin tells him it is over. She explains to the commissar that the whole affair was just a diversion, and the police leave. Still Ochs persists in trying to pursue Sophie, and only gradually does he realize the twists and turns of the intrigue in which he has been caught. At last he recognizes that the game is up and quits showered with bills and abuse.
The Marschallin is left alone with Octavian and Sophie, and realizes that they are already in love. She takes it upon herself to reconcile Faninal to the match of his daughter with Octavian.
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