Synopsis of Der Rosenkavalier

A Three Act Opera by Richard Strauss

Der Rosenkavalier at NCPA
N509FZ/Wikimedia Commons

Der Rosenkavalier is a three-act comic opera by Richard Strauss that premiered on January 26, 1911, at the Konigliches Opernhaus in Dresden. The opera takes place in 1740s' Vienna, early in Maria Therese's reign. Here is a synopsis of the three acts.

Der Rosenkavalier, ACT 1

In the bedroom of the Marschallin, Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg, she and her much younger lover, Octavian, embrace and share their feelings of love. When a young boy, Mohammad, enters the room with the Marschallin's breakfast, Octavio quickly hides in order to avoid scandal. He hides once more when loud voices are heard approaching the door. The Marschallin fears her husband has returned home early, but it turns out to be her cousin, Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. Meanwhile, Octavian has disguised himself as a chambermaid, "Mariandel," and tries unsuccessfully to leave the room without being noticed. Ochs has come to discuss his upcoming arranged marriage to the young woman, Sophie, who the Marschallin recently upgraded to nobility status.

Ochs asks the Marschallin who his Rosenkavalier (Knight of the Rose) should be. It was customary for a knight to deliver a silver rose to the woman, signaling the start of her engagement. The Marschallin recommends Octavian and shows Ochs his picture. Ochs can't help but notice the resemblance between Octavian and the chambermaid, Mariandel. Assuming Mariandel must be the illegitimate sister of Octavian, he confesses that his own illegitimate son serves for him. The crude Ochs, then, begins propositioning Mariandel, but Mariandel plays coy and is able to escape.

The Marschallin's room quickly fills with lawyers to write up Ochs wedding contract, and servants to prepare the princess for the day - even a tenor has been sent to the princess to serenade her. His aria is cut short when Ochs argues with the lawyer over the dowry. Then, two gossip tellers, Valzacchi and Annina, enter the room and try to sell information to the Marschallin. Ochs buts in to dig up information about Mariandel. The gossipers tell him they know all sorts of details, but they actually have no clue. He pays them to seek Mariandel and discover her whereabouts. The Marschallin becomes upset when she looks into the mirror - for the first time she realizes that her youth has fleeted.

After everyone has finally departed, the Marschallin laments her own early marriage. Octavian returns in his normal attire and finds that her mood has changed dramatically. Resigned to the fact that the young man will eventually leave her, she decides that they should no longer be together. Octavian leaves and the Marschallin is upset she hasn't kissed him goodbye. She calls out to him, but sadly, it is too late. She then calls Mohammad into the room and instructs him to deliver the silver rose to Octavian.

Der Rosenkavalier, ACT 2

Sophie and her father await the arrival of Der Rosenkavalier. As customary, her father leaves just before Der Rosenkavalier. When Octavian enters the home, Sophie and her chaperone greet him. After a small conversation, it is clear that there is a mutual attraction between the two. Ochs and Sophie's father return, and though Ochs has never met Octavian, he talks with him as if he has known him for years. Ochs is basically an ogre and talks about Sophie as if she is property. He also reveals that Octavian has an illegitimate sister. Ochs leaves to discuss the marriage contract with Sophie's father.

Octavian sees that Sophie is upset and he hugs and consoles her. Valzacchi and Annina catch the two in their embrace and call out to Ochs. Ochs draws his sword, but Octavian is quick to cut Ochs arm. Ochs yells like a dog and servants are sent into a tizzy. Sophie tells her father she will never marry that oaf. Octavian concocts a plan of his own and hires Annina to help him. Later that evening, Ochs, who gets himself drunk, is nursed by Annina. She delivers a letter to him from Mariandel requesting a meeting with him. After she dressed his wounds, she gets mad when he refuses to tip her. As a result, she plans her own revenge.

Der Rosenkavalier, ACT 3

With the help of Annina and Valzacchi, Octavian finishes preparing their rendezvous room. Later, Mariandel and Ochs enter the dingy room. As their evening over dinner unfolds, the heads of Octavian's conspirators pop through trap doors. Mariandel asks as if she doesn't see a thing, and Ochs starts to feel guilty over what he has done. Just then, Annina bursts into the room with a large group of children claiming that Ochs is the father. When police arrive to sort out the mess, Sophie's father is summoned when Ochs claims that Mariandel is his fiance.

Sophie and her father arrive to clear their names and Sophie demands that Ochs leave her alone. Finally, the Marschallin enters the room and settles the scandal. Sadly, she instructs Octavian to marry Sophie since it is clear the two are in love. Ochs is sent home empty handed with whatever dignity he has left. The Marschallin takes her leave and the young lovers share a long embrace. Mohammad runs into the room to retrieve the tear-soaked handkerchief the Marschallin dropped moments before.

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