Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose) is a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to an original German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is loosely adapted from the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai and Molière’s comedy Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. It was first performed at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden on 26 January 1911 under the direction of Max Reinhardt.
There are several recordings of the opera, and it is regularly performed.
In her bedchamber, Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg (the Marschallin) and her much younger lover Count Octavian Rofrano, exchange vows of love. To avoid scandal, he hides when a small black boy, Mohammed, brings the Marschallin's breakfast, and then again when loud voices are heard in the antechamber. He returns disguised as a chambermaid. The Marschallin's country cousin Baron Ochs has unexpectedly arrived to discuss his engagement to Sophie, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. After boorishly describing his personal pastime of chasing skirts, and demonstrating on the disguised Octavian, he asks the Marschallin which cavalier he should select to deliver the traditional silver engagement rose to Sophie. She recommends Octavian, and when Ochs sees the young count's picture, he notices the similarities in the count's Face to "Mariandel's" and assumes that she is Octavian's bastard sister. The coarse Ochs propositions "the chambermaid", and Octavian pretends to be the country maid in response, leaving the first chance he gets.
The room then fills with supplicants to the Princess. An Italian Tenor serenades the Marschallin, while Ochs works out the marriage contract with the Marschallin's notary. Two Italian spies, Valzacchi and Annina, try to sell the Princess the latest scandal sheets, and offer their surveillance services to Ochs. Rudely interrupting the tenor's song, Ochs tells the lawyer to demand a dowry from Sophia's family, and leaves, but not before employing the two Italians. Amidst all the activity, the Marschallin remarks to her hairdresser: "My dear Hippolyte, today you have made me look like an old woman."
When all have left, the Marschallin, reminded of her own early marriage by Och's young bride, sadly ponders her fleeting youth and the fickleness of men. By the time Octavian returns (in men's clothes), she has realized that one day he will leave her. She tells him so, and despite his fervent vows of love, she knows his love will not last. He is stunned by her mood change and abruptly leaves. She suddenly realizes that she has forgotten to kiss him goodbye, and sends some footmen after him. But it is too late, and he is gone. The Marschallin summons her page to deliver the silver rose to Octavian to deliver. After Mohammed departs, Marie Therese stares pensively into her hand mirror as the curtain falls.
In his ornate foyer, Herr von Faninal and Sophie await the arrival of the Rosenkavalier (Knight of the Rose), Octavian. Following tradition, Faninal departs before the Knight appears. Sophie frets over her approaching marriage with a man she has never met as her duenna, Marianne, reports on the approach of Octavian. Octavian arrives with great pomp, dressed all in silver. He presents the silver rose to Sophie in an elaborate ceremony. Immediately, the two young people are attracted to each other and they sing a beautiful duet. Sophie and Octavian begin to fall in love during a chaperoned conversation when Ochs enters with Sophie's father. The Baron speaks familiarly with Octavian (even though they've never met), examines Sophie like chattel and behaves generally like a cad. He exits to discuss money with her father. Ochs's servants begin to chase the maids, sending the household into an uproar. Sophie starts to weep, and Octavian promises to help her. He embraces her, but they are discovered by Ochs's Italian spies, who report to him. Ochs is only amused, considering the much-younger Octavian no threat, but Octavian's temper is raised enough to challenge the bull-headed Baron to a duel. The Baron receives a slight wound in the arm in the fracas and cries bloody murder. As a doctor is sent for, Sophie tells her father she never will marry the Baron, but her father insists she will and threatens to send her to a convent. Octavian is thrown out, and Sophie is sent to her room. As Ochs is left alone on the divan with his wounded arm in a sling, he begins to raise his spirits with a glass of port. Annina enters with a letter for Ochs from "Mariandel" (Octavian) asking to meet him for a tryst. The now recovered and drunk Ochs, in anticipation of his eminent meeting, dances around the stage to one of the opera's many waltzes. He makes a serious mistake: he forgets to tip Annina.
In a private room in an inn, Valzacchi and Annina have switched alliances, and are now helping Octavian prepare a trap for the Baron. Ochs and "Mariandel" arrive for a private dinner. Ochs tries to seduce the seemingly willing chambermaid, though he is disturbed by her resemblance to Octavian. The guilt-ridden baron catches glimpses of the heads of Octavian's conspirators as they pop out of secret doors. A woman (Annina in disguise) rushes in claiming that Ochs is her husband and the father of her children, all of whom rush in crying "Papa! Papa!" As the confusion grows, Ochs calls for the police.
The police arrive, and to avoid a scandal, Ochs claims that "Mariandel" is his fiancée Sophie. Octavian lets the Police Commissioner in on the trick, and the Officer plays along. Furious for being enmeshed in the scandal, Faninal arrives and sends for Sophie to clear his and his daughter's name. Sophie arrives and asks the Baron to leave her alone. Just as Ochs is completely befuddled and embarassed, the Marschallin enters. The Princess sends the Police and all the others away, and orders the Baron to leave gracefully, salvaging what is left of his dignity. Ochs finally leaves, pursued by various bill collectors. The Marschallin, Sophie and Octavian are left alone.
The Marschallin recognizes that the day she so feared has come, as Octavian hesitates between the two women. In the emotional climax of the opera, the Marschallin gracefully releases Octavian, encouraging him to follow his heart and love Sophie. She then withdraws elegantly to the next room to talk with Faninal. As soon as she is gone, Sophie and Octavian run to each others arms. Faninal and the Marschallian return to find the lovers locked in an embrace. After a few bittersweet glances to her lost lover, the Princess departs with Faninal. Sophie and Octavian follow after another brief but estatic love duet, and the opera ends with the Marschallin's little black page, Mohammed, running in to retrieve Sophie's dropped handkerchief, and racing out again after the departing nobility.
"Marschallin" is the title given to a Field Marshal's wife.