Sunday, June 8, 2014

Age-Dependent Genre

In preparation for their live streaming video of a performance of Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, the London Telegraph posted a plot summary on their Web site. The anonymous author of this summary calls the plot a "comic intrigue." Ever since my introduction to Max und Moritz, I have had a long-standing interest in what the Germans think is funny. I was in my first year of graduate school at the time, studying German for my language qualifier; and we had quite a sidebar discussion about all the nasty things those kids do in the tales about them, At that time Rosenkavalier provided one of the few stories I could accept as comic. I was young then.

As I grew older, I found more inclined to believe that the opera was really "about" the Marschallin, rather than about how clever scheming Octavian "rescues" Sophie from the oafish Baron Ochs and takes her as his own bride. The first act has not yet concluded before were are alerted to how Octavian's gain will be the Marschallin's loss. I know I am not the only one for whom age has brought deeper thought about her point of view.

Perhaps what interests me most about Hugo von Hofmannsthal, at least in his capacity as Strauss' librettist, is the way in which he avoids allowing his texts to fall into neat genre categories. Not only are his narratives multi-faceted; but also how the plot unfolds can depend on whose point of view you wish to follow. I sometimes wonder whether Strauss grasped some of Hofmannsthal's more sophisticated constructions; but, every now and then, we are fortunate enough to have a staging director who figures out how to pick up on some of those details that Strauss either disregarded or never understood.

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