Fri, Jun 22, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Strauss in full-stage magnificence

This is the first time that Taipei has seen the great opera presented in all its sumptuous settings, a fitting farewell show for NSO's musical director Chien Wen-pin

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Der Rosenkavalier brings together some of Richard Strauss's most memorable music with sumptuous stage settings and the inventiveness of romantic comedy.


The arrival of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier ("The Knight of the Rose") in Taipei next weekend marks the culmination of many things. It ends the National Symphony Orchestra's (NSO) Strauss Cycle, it concludes the same orchestra's 20th anniversary celebrations, and - being the first NSO opera to be mounted fully-staged, and in the National Theater rather than the National Concert Hall - it forms a fitting climax to the series of operas, beginning with Tosca in 2002, that conductor Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬) has caused to be produced here. But above all, it marks the end of Chien's own pioneering seven years as Music Director of the NSO, a term which expires at the end of the month.

The production can be viewed as a product of Chien's long association with Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf. The singers, scenery and costumes, plus 32 members of the technical team, are all being brought in by the German company. But Chien will conduct, and the orchestra will be the NSO.

Der Rosenkavalier is one of the West's greatest operas - it will certainly be in every connoisseur's top 20. But it's nonetheless very much a product of its era. When it was premiered in 1911, two streams were struggling for operatic supremacy in Europe, the massive, orchestra-dominated works of Wagner and the tuneful verismo ("realist") operas of the young Italians, led by Puccini. There was a third force in operation as well, the memory of Verdi's last opera, Falstaff (1893), which had single-handedly revived the Mozartean comic tradition with music of dazzling inventiveness and brilliance.

Richard Strauss had achieved enormous success as a wunderkind with his two previous operas, Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), works that shocked and hypnotized audiences with, respectively, sadistic eroticism and razor-sharp dissonance. Both had been written along Wagnerian lines. But what Strauss opted to do in his new opera was to combine all three traditions - the oceanic Wagnerian orchestra, verismo lyricism, and the comic spirit of Mozart. The result was a work that seemed to incorporate the entire operatic world, yet also sound unlike anything audiences had heard before.

Performance notes

Der Rosenkavalier plays at Taipei's National Theater from Friday, June 29, to MOnday, July 2, beginning at 7pm (Friday, Saturday and Monday) and 3pm (Sunday). Ticket prices are from NT$500 to NT$3,600. For further information call (02) 3393-9888, or go to www.artsticket.

Amalgamation had clearly got into Strauss's soul because he also opted to ransack much of Western history. The action is set in 18th century Vienna, but into this he introduced a whole string of waltzes (in reality unknown until the following century, there to be popularized by the other Strausses, the waltz kings). And on top of this he added a tingling modernity and dissonance, enough to set your teeth on edge, where necessary.

Words might have presented a problem for such a grand undertaking, but in securing the services of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of Germany's leading poets (who had also provided the libretto of Elektra), mastery on all fronts was assured.

Augmenting this spirit of fantastic make-believe, Hofmannsthal invented a tradition - that of a man sending his beloved a silver rose to mark their engagement, with the person who delivers the rose called the Rosenkavalier. Historically totally bogus, this nevertheless forms the keystone of the plot.

The no-longer-young Marschallin (wife of a field-marshal), victim of a loveless arranged marriage, is conducting a passionate affair with a teenager, Octavian. Meanwhile, her rustic relation, the lecherous Baron Ochs, is planning to marry Sophie, the daughter of a rich merchant called Faninal. Ochs believes he has to send Sophie a silver rose, and it's Octavian who's chosen to take it. At the presentation ceremony, however, Octavian and Sophie fall in love. Subsequently the Baron is made to look the fool he is, and the Marschallin has to face the reality that she's lost Octavian to a younger woman.

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