- Reading time
- 4 min.
A comedy, certainly, but also the moving portrait of a farewell, a nostalgic look back at time past, faded beauty, lost loves. Read the synopsis of Der Rosenkavalier here, and listen to some musical highlights in advance.
In the Marschallin’s bedroom, she and her young Lover, Octavian, are awakening from a rapturous night.
Octavian hides quickly as a servant comes in with breakfast. Soon after he returns to bed, there is a clamour in the outer room. The Marschallin recognises the voice as that of her overbearing and crude cousin, Baron Ochs. She tells Octavian to hide behind the screen and find some clothes. Ochs storms in, demanding his cousin’s attention. Although he is a nobleman, he has little money, so he intends to marry the young rich bourgeois Sophie. According to tradition, he must find a well-born messenger to present a perfumed silver rose to the woman as a marriage proposal.
The Marschallin mischievously recommends Count Rofrano (Octavian) for the job, and Ochs agrees. Octavian has reappeared, dressed in women’s clothes as the housemaid “Mariandel”. Ochs flirts with her. Meanwhile, a number of visitors arrive in succession, demanding the Marschallin’s attention. As an Italian tenor sings an aria, Ochs attempts to bully a notary into writing out a marriage contract that will favour him greatly. “Mariandel” slips away.
After everyone has Left, the Marschallin reflects on her lost youth. Octavian returns, in his own clothing, and the Marschallin tells him that sometimes she gets up in the night and stops all the clocks so as to hold time in its place. She declares that he will one day leave her for a younger woman, and he leaves in great distress. When she realises that she has neglected to kiss him goodbye, she tries unsuccessfully to have him returned to her house.
In her father’s reception hall, Sophie von Faninal awaits the arrival of the Knight of the Rose. Handsome and elegantly dressed, Octavian arrives bearing the silver rose in advance of the bridegroom’s arrival. The two young people promptly fall for each other.
Ochs comes in, accompanied by his loutish entourage, and he treats Sophie patronisingly. His excessive confidence alienates Sophie, who declares that she will not have him. When Ochs tries to force the issue, Octavian angrily draws his sword. The scene ends with chaos. Sophie’s father threatens to send her back to the convent (where she has been at school) if she does not agree to the marriage.
In a private room at a seedy inn, the scene is set for a plan meant to humble the obnoxious Ochs. “Mariandel” has agreed to meet him, and they arrive together. His plans of seduction repeatedly run awry with continual interruptions by other conspirators; the ensuing pandemonium brings in the police. Ochs’s mood is not improved by the arrival of Sophie and her father, who express shock. “Mariandel” hides and changes clothes and then returns as Count Rofrano. Next on the scene is the Marschallin. Faced with all the people he most wished to impress, Ochs grumpily rushes off. After Baron Faninal leaves, only the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie remain. They reflect upon their different perspectives on love. The Marschallin, with much bittersweet feeling, yields her place to the younger woman, and the trio becomes a duet for Sophie and Octavian. “We are together,” Octavian proclaims. “All else is like a dream.”