Rosenkavalier Started It All for the Swishers in 1966

By Explanation . . .

As I usually do, I write my posts on Skeptical Bob for me . . . and at times, to make my friends and family aware of why I take a particular view of something or other.  This post, I’ll warn you, is going to be about some music that I find I get particularly emotional about–well not “about” as much as simply attending to, listening to.

You see, that’s the thing about listening to music for me.  Got a story for you: I heard a couple of those FM radio opera “introducers” who are supposed to say interesting things that keep you, the listener, from turning the damned thing off because nothing seems to be happening at the moment (scene change, etc, etc, etc). Well, the guy said he didn’t understand something that the conductor had said when being interviewed about his orchestra members needing to be conduits to the audience members.

The soprano, who was acting as stupid’s sidekick said

“Well, that’s obvious: as a singer, I’m not supposed to feel the emotions I’m singing about; I am supposed to be concentrating on passing that feeling out to the audience members who the composer WAS trying to make feel that way.”

So music–I think the BEST of music–is supposed to make me emotional about what I’m hearing.  And a lot of some composers’ works do that to me.  One of them is Richard Strauss:

They Have Credit Courses about WHAT?

I know I’ve talked a lot about the neat stuff that I was able to take as electives in my program, in the later part of my undergraduate in Bloomington, that is, available to be because I had already filled up most of my requireds while in Gary.  So, and I’ve said this  before, there were courses like the world religions course which had a profound effect on my wish to understand different belief systems.  In Fine Arts I found a great course on early Italian Renaissance painters, sculptors and architects; I took two courses in a specialty my minor, Anthropology: ethnomusicology added both a intro course to its study and another specialized course that got me listening to field recordings captured on cylinders and reel-to-reels tapes recorded by Alan Lomax (on both our country’s folk song tradition, chain gang work cadences, and recordings of different cultural uses by many different tribes of American Indians).

Beyond the Classroom, Music Galore

I actually see a long but straight trail from my high school band days into the course work I took in my upper division undergraduate courses in Bloomington that got capped off nicely by what IU gave us, institutionally, made to its students, faculty and staff, citizens of the state (and surrounding states) right down there in the middle of the Southern Uplands of hardwood forests of southern Indiana: music, music, music.

IU, in its Jacobs School of Music, is an astounding cultural resource that its president at the time of its creation put together (President Herman Wells); it was a goal of his.  So today, IU Music is one of a handful of the top music programs in the country, actually competing for students with astounding metropolitan conservatories like Julliard and Curtis Institute as part of the mix of the programs you have to talk about to place it nationally.  One source placed IU’s Jacobs school first in 2014, with Curtis second and Julliard third, and I link to it not because it put IU first, but because of the sniping that goes on for pages and pages by readers of the ranking who did NOT like where their program fell; it is the sort of huffing and puffing, with a lot of back biting, that you should expect from advocates of each of the top ranked programs.  But, lets face it, IU’s voice program is . . . well . . . it has a close relationship with the Metropolitan Opera that goes back . . . to the 1940s:

Mr. Wells, a stout, jolly man who loved to cook and entertain, was also determined to make the university a cultural center for the Midwest.  When the Metropolitan Opera Company first performed on a college campus, it was at Indiana University in 1942, performing ”Aida” to a capacity crowd of 3,800 from 108 cities and towns in 5 states. Mr. Wells called the concert ”an event without precedent in the cultural life of Indiana.”

iu aida–from, “Herman Wells, once IU’s President and later Chancellor,” NY Times obit, March 21, 2000

The production of Aida was an outdoor production, using one side of what became IU’s track field (and the running of the Little 500, for the audience seating.

And there are world class artists in each instrument taught there too, as well as composers and musicologists.

And speaking of composers, I am fond of recounting that when I worked for IU Libraries on the Bloomington campus in the early 1970’s, a Chilean student who worked in my section of the circulation department came to me asking to be excused from one evening’s hours that week, a Thursday, as I recall.  I asked why?  She said one of the orchestra concerts that week was performing her father’s composition, a world premier, and it was dedicated to her.  Could she attend?

Juan Orrego-Salas, Eric’s First Percussion Instructor

Her father was the famous musician in residence Chilean composer, Juan Orrego-Salas, and Eric at least remembers being told by us that he–as a very young, still teething infant–first danced on a coffee table on Mr. Orrega-Salas’ back patio, when Claudia and I and Eric were invited over to his and his wife’s house for dinner with their daughter, Francesca (my student employee) and her husband, Julio, an Argentinian student at IU. (Before I forget: I rescheduled her so she could attend the concert.)

[Eric knows that we told him later that we were working with Orrega-Salas on the marriage to Fran’s daughter, Angelina, his grand daughter, to Eric, but we last track and Eric came up with his own ideas.  If you watch all of this short 6 minute interview with Orrega-Salas, you will see that it was probably Angelina who probably got to sit on Aaron Copeland’s lap, there inside of the back study in the Orrego-Salas house on the east side of Bloomington.  Little teething Eric just got to dance for the composer, whose wife had rubbed whiskey on Eric’s gums, trying to distract him from crying by dancing to the rhythm Mr. Orrego-Salas was beating out on the patio coffee table.]

Music at IU was jazz too, especially as it began in the 1970’s because of one man, black Indianapolis trombomist David Baker, who graduated from Indy’s Chrispus Attucks High School (same as the Big O!) and finally ended up at IU on the music faculty.

But, IU was and is, first of all, Opera and Voice

Although I had been introduced to opera by my IU Northwest Campus stage crew co-worker, Dan Sollors–and got to attend, with him, productions of Verdi and Wagner in the early, early 1960’s at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, it wasn’t until Claudia and I got to Bloomington together that we began taking advantage of the IU music program’s opera productions.

I have a drawer full of experiences about our proximity to the old East Hall on campus, and the University School high school auditorium that served both before the disastrous fire at East Hall, which at the time served as the props storage and costumes storage for IU Operas, and then later was a building of row after row of practice rooms, equipped with dozens and dozens of pianos–and then burned to the ground one horrible night.  We were living across the street from East Hall and the whole night was a horrific experience to watch.

She Says It All Began With Rosenkavalier

Just yesterday, Claudia recalled for me that the first production we went to after getting married (in December, 1965) occurred a couple of months after taking our “honeymoon” trip (a 3 hour car drive back to Bloomington from Gary, Indiana), and then getting set up in our first “apartment” (a one room apartment on a narrow alley next to the Von Lee movie house on Kirkwood Ave (foreign films, for we 60’s artzy-fartzy “intellectual types” mostly), just a half block off campus) for the spring 1966 semester.

My Gary theater buddy, Dan Sollors, had found employment in the stage production department in 1965, which he had come down to Bloomington to pursue, and got to work under one of THE names in scenic design from the 60’s to the early 70’s: a fellow by the name of Mario Cristini.

It is my recollection that Cristini had designed the production of Der Rosenkavalier that we saw, which was produced in March or April of the spring semester of the 1965-66 academic year.  It was held in the huge Auditorium on the campus, the entrance on the east side of Showalter Fountain:

showalter fountain and auditoriumWhat did the house and proscenium of the Auditorium look like:  I have no pictures that I could find.  I just got these two images of the inside today:

iu auditoriumiu auditorium 2And when I checked some IU archival resources online (see notes at bottom of this post), I found she was right: the first opera we saw as a married couple was Der Rosenkavalier in the spring semester of 1965-66.

Now, I have a couple of professional production shots of this production of Der Rosenkavalier that I also found in the IU archive web site:

rosenkavalier staged shot auditorium 1966This auditorium proscenium is not four stories high (Like Lyric, or the Met), but it is close to that.  So the scenic designer had lots of space to occupy in this, the “presentation scene” in Act II, which takes place in the young Sophie’s father’s palace reception room.

A good deal of time is taken by Strauss’ orchestral motif of The Presentation of the Silver Rose by a young man (a young knight or “kavalier”) who is acting on the instructions of the old lecher of the libretto, Baron Ochs, an uncouth “handsy” predator who has money, which clearly, Sophie’s rich (from the outside only) bourgeois father needs.

“Two Sopranos, a Mezzo-Soprano in Trousers, and Bass”

First, remember that this opera was written and first performed in 1911.  Set in Austria.  HELLO!  Yes, this was the end of old, aristocratic Europe.  I wrote a post two years ago this month on a must read book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.  And my colleague in the History Department at OU, Warren, would remind me that I should not forget what the visual artists were doing in Vienna (especially, Klimt) during the same first ten years of the 20th century: The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, which I wrote about in a post a year ago.  Those two books would serve your background needs very well in having a sense of what the young Strauss was conspiring to confront the cultural elite of Europe with at that time.  Strauss’ three most frequently performed operas were written one after the other in a span of four years smack at the start of real upheaval in the arts and intellect in Europe then:

  • Salome (1906)
  • Elektra (1908)
  • Der Rosenkavalier (1910)

Salome and Elektra scared the crap out of aristocratic Europe, and Rosenkavalier, though it looked at and made fun of the rustic roob-dom that defined the rural aristocracy,  was a broad comedy poking fun at both that uncouth rural class and the nouveau riche like Sophie’s father too.

Its a complicated story that is told by Strauss’ librettist, the Austrian playwright and poet, von Hoffmannsthal.  The story involves the young kavalier, Octavian, who starts the opera in Act I as the lover of the older aristocratic Marschallin, gets tapped to deliver the country bumbkin Baron Ochs’ gift of a silver rose to the young Sophie, and gets conflicted in Act III between his affection for the older Marschallin and his new affliction, Sophie.

A trouser role that can be a parallel to Cherubino [that would be Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro male part sung by a woman] is Octavian from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. The original name of the 3 act comic opera was Ochs von Lerchenau. The opera Der Rosenkavalier premiered in 1911 in Dresden. The work was based on the piece Les amour des chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai, and Moliere’s comedy Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.

Strauss, very fond of female voice, decided to have four main characters, from which three are women.  Marschallin, Sophie von Faninal, Octavian and the Baron Ochs are the principal quartet in the opera, two sopranos, a mezzo-soprano in trousers, and bass, respectively.

The collaboration between Strauss and Hofmansthal was ideal. During the conception of this work, the letters between them showed that they were in great tune with one another. This is Strauss’ reply letter to the librettist after reading the first script: “the opening scene is delightful: it’ll set itself to music like oil and melted butter: I’m hatching it out already. You’re da Ponte [Mozart’s librettist] and Scribe [librettist for both Donizetti and Bellini] rolled into one.”

The piece had originally three great parts, the Baron Ochs and Octavian and Marschallin. However Strauss decided to bring more life to Sophie. The love triangle worked. The opera became well known for the female trio and the last duet, which ends the opera. (from a Trouser Roles music thesis done at Georgia State in 2012, of all places)

It goes without saying that “the opera became well known for the female trio and the last duet, which ends the opera.”  Indeed, I want to share several YouTube recordings of three places in the action, just to show you how well Strauss can play with your emotions.  At least he does ours every God damned time we listen to the opera.

The first is the small part in the first act (in the Marschallin’s bedroom), when servants arrive to entertain the Marschillin.  One of the small entertainments in a singer (the libretto just calls for “the Italian singer”) and his accompanying flute player to entertain the Marschilln:

Di rigori armato il senothe Italian Singer, Der Rosenkavalier (YouTube, 2:18)

Later in the opera, “the presentation” is made by Octavian of a silver rose to the young Sophie that the lecherous Baron Ochs has designs on knowing that her father needs an alliance with Ochs’ finances:

Ist ein traum,” Der Rosenkavalier (YouTube, 6:43)

Just one more final moment in the opera to share.  As I mentioned above, Strauss LOVED the soprano voice, so much so that he used THREE in the final trio of the opera.  This has to be one of the most dramatically powerful scenes in opera: the Marchallin knows she has lost Octavian, and Octavian sort of both knows his heart and his allegiance to the Marchillin . . . but finally, the Marchillin lets Octavian go . . . to Sophie, with the Marchillin and Sophie’s father leaving before them, leaving them alone for a stupendous duet.

Hab mir’s gelobt,” Der Rosenkavalier (YouTube, 17:49)

One for fun thing about this opera.  Ochs, obviously, is being made out to be a clueless leach.  He tries in the opera to seduce some cleaning women and others, and he gets drunk too.  During one of those times, he lurches into a little ditty, a waltz, called “Mit mir.”  You will like it, trust me:

Mit mir,” Der Rosenkavalier, (YouTube, 8:39)

Believe it or not, there is a complete copy of the 1960 production of this opera done with the greatest soprano of the late 20th century, Elizabeth Schwarzkoph, as the Marschallin, and von Karajan, conducting.  It was “filmed” (Rank Organization productions, I think):

Complete Der Rosenkavalier, 1960, Schwarzkopf, von Karajan

We’ve never looked back about opera since that spring semester of 1965-66 at IU.  Thank you, Hermie.


P.S. I know, I know: it’s a long post.  Well you should see what is left on the desktop that I didn’t use.  I just had trouble deciding which of my children were going to get chopped in half.  Tugger would be feasting if the sentences were written on typing paper or even toilet paper.  No such luck, Buddy.

P.P.S. Yes, that was Pavarotti singing The Italian Singer role at the Met production.  Bet the audience blew a fuse when he appeared.

P.P.P. S.  Just read one of the notes under the Pavarotti piece sung above:

First time I ever saw Rosenkavalier was in 70’s or early 80’s: at the Met, pre-curtain the Manager steps out to announce the Italian Tenor’s illness. The ughs changed to screaming: Pavarotti was the replacement. The rest was forgettable.

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