By Sigurd Neubauer
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) is widely considered the ‘last’ of the great composers. In American popular culture, Also sprach Zarathustra, stands out as perhaps his most famous work, which was immortalized by Elvis Pressley. The tone poem, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical treatise of the same name, became known to Elvis fans as the opening music for hundreds of his concerts in the 1970s.
In the world of opera, Strauss stands out as well as a great composer. His work continues to be performed every season at the Vienna State Opera. Der Rosenkavalier, of course, remains his most popular opera to-date. For those new to the magical world of opera or those seeking to explore it, Der Rosenkavalier is not the best place to start as it requires some familiarity with the various genres of opera in order to fully appreciate its music.
But its most famous scene – the Presentation of the Silver Rose – is magnificent nonetheless as it appeals to listeners of all levels. It captures operatic grandeur at its best, both musically as well as on stage where Viennese opulence is front and center.
The music is simply magical, and quite frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this. The opera was premiered at the Hofoper in Dresden, Germany, on January 26, 1911. Der Rosenkavalier itself is set in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, during the middle of the eighteenth century. The libretto is by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929).
While Der Rosenkavalier is modeled after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-1791) The Marriage of Figaro, the music of the two operas couldn’t be more different.
The Marriage of Figaro – remains one of the most beloved operas of all time – and is an excellent piece to explore for the newcomer or those interested in exploring the art form.
What the two operas have in common is that they’re both modeled on Vienna’s high society during the eighteenth century. Another parallel between the two is that the villain is, of course, the decadent and lustful aristocrat. But the operas are also about heroism, humor, and common sense, which is why they remain beloved classical masterpieces in their own right.
The presentation of the Silver Rose is from Act II. It takes place during the morning of Sophie engagement when she excitedly awaits the arrival of the cavalier of the rose. Octavian, the youthful hero, enters and presents her with the Silver Rose on behalf of the Baron – who is the villain.