Cher Public

Gray lady

Denigrating myths about opera abound, but one of the most enduring is the myth that Der Rosenkavalier is about an aging woman who must graciously renounce sexual love, leaving it to the young. (Photo: Ken Howard)

  • fletcher

    Could we call this a canard? I mean, Nussbaum is a well-regarded thinker and I admire her work, but I’m not sure I buy any of the three “lies” she identifies in the libretto. I don’t have an English translation in front of me, but I don’t recall these choices being explicitly spelled out, and Nussbaum conspicuously avoids quoting Hofmannsthal more than once. Does the Marschallin ever actually renounce sex? Does she ever claim that Octavian is someone she plans to stay with long-term? And is she even really so punished in the end? It’s odd that Nussbaum seems so determined to methodically undermine the Marschallin’s wisdom (maybe ‘knowingness’ is better?) when her commentary on male maturity and what it means to become man (“…wird er so glücklich sein, als wie halt Männer das Glücklichsein verstehen”) is just as sharp as the complementary reflections on women’s aging, for me -- she yields Octavian to adulthood as much as Sophie, right? And Octavian’s maturation, his transformation even, seems far more inexorable than her own sexual resignation. I need to reread the end of the first act in English, but I’m having trouble finding a legible libretto online at the moment. Maybe Nussbaum saw a really Pomo production where the Marschallin gets an interpolated final number:

  • Camille

    What a tub of rubbish. The Marschallin doesn’t renounce sex in her kleine Monolog, at ALL--just muses upon the fact that she was once that girl “frisch aus dem Kloster”, and now she’s an old lady that people point out. It just sounds to me as if the author needed to come up with an article that would provoke and get some mileage out of a beloved character. Besides, these days being 32 years old is equivalent to still being a teenager. Fifty is the new thirty, and so on and so on….

    • Bill

      Sometimes there is over analysis of a libretto -- I never thought Octavian as being particularly stupid. he seems attuned to what is going on -- and the Marschallin is aging (18th century aging that is as the life expectancy was shorter then) but not that old to renounce further romance if her husband was always away. Look at Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria -- she had something like 17 children while ruling the Hapsburg empire.

      • Camille

        Hi Bill--
        No, I think it is rather stupid to call Octavian ‘stupid’, as he shows himself to be rather clever in his contrivances. He is just a very typically high-spirited and hormonally driven aristo who sees the world as his plaything. That’s all.

        Are you going to hear Ein Deutsches Requiem coming up next month, I believe, at Carnegie?

        • Bill

          I’ll check it out -- the Requiem -- busy with the Marathon at the moment

          • Camille

            Bill geliebter,
            Better by far you keep on running.

            If you DO decide--it is next Monday and with Kent Trittle
            and his forces, at Canetie/Stern. . Susanna Phillips will be doing the soprano oolo part so that should go. Well. I heard a very bad perf. Some months ago, or a year ago, and hiping this will he remedy. They are also doing Schicksallied, as well, and that is not done as often. . .

  • I don’t agree with everything that the author uses as a basis for her argument, but I did find it an interesting, thought-provoking read. It certainly made me want to re-read Antony & Cleopatra.

  • jackoh

    The premise of Nussbaum’s article is that that there is sex and there is love, and those are two related but distinct entities and can be opposed to one another; and therein lies the conundrum for the Marschallin. But since Freud we need to take seriously the possibility that “love” is simply sublimated sex. What we call “love” is at base sex by a different name. The notion that sex, as an animating principle, is the driving force behind all human relationships and the stories that those relationships spin out is, I think, one of the hallmarks of Strauss’s operas. In doing so he is grappling with the basics of Freud’s approach. So to say that the Marschallin in Strauss’s opera is trying to make a (forced) choice between sex and love but the reality is that most women of age can have both, counter to what she sees as the operas message, ignores the possibility that the Marschallin understands that there is no difference between the two and that she is content in that knowledge. If knowledge is the original sin and the spawn of all of our troubles, that may be reason enough to find joy in our “fallen” state.

  • Hans Sachs does exactly this in Die Meistersinger.

  • Cicciabella

    Where to start with this essay? First of all, Octavian is not stupid, he’s just young, but the author glibly equates the two. Octavian is socially savvy, fully grasping the situation at the Faninal household and leading Ochs a merry dance at the inn. He’s by no means a dull-witted teenager. As has been stated before, the Marschallin never renounces anything except Octavian. She accepts that youth belongs with youth and that hers is gone forever, instead of rendering herself ridiculous by trying to compete with Sophie. The Marschallin is supposed to be in her early thirties, I think, and Cleopatra died at thirty-nine. At the end the author compares them to Hollywood roles for actresses like Helen Mirren, who is in her sixties: confusing to say the least. According to the author Cleopatra made a “deep, satisfying and mature choice” when choosing Mark Antony who, by the way, was around 13 years older, but hey, he had conversation, unlike Octavian and Romeo and Juliet. He was also married with children, but this “baggage” is apparently necessary for “aging” relationships to be interesting. It’s unfortunate as far as the comparison goes that the only aging party was Antony. Cleopatra was still beautiful and fecund and producing lots of Egypto-Roman babies. Amazing that Cleopatra’s political motives are completely ignored. How can you base an argument by comparing two such divergent relationships as the domestic one in Rosenkavalier and Cleopatra’s attempt to create a political dynasty with whatever Roman happened to be top dog? Did the author even read the libretto? If so, its contents were distorted to “prove” the posited theory.

    • Camille

      Oh good for you, Cheech, as you see similarly about Octavian. Glad you thought so, as well and expanded on that subject.

      This article comes from a clump of think pieces about aging gracefully, its source is at the end of the article. How to stay young as you age —snore…………you know, I am so happy not to be driven by hormones anymore! I am not as prone to grievous errors of judgment as once I was, if you catch my drift.

      • Cicciabella

        Quite so. The Marschallin will also eventually find out about the hormones, but, thanks to Strauss, she stays forever youngish and beautiful, and wise.

    • Leontiny

      Helen Mirren is in her 70’s, but no matter. I only mention it because she is hawt and I read your analysis closely with respect for what you have to say.

      • Cicciabella

        Thank you for the correction, Leontiny. Helen Mirren is and was wonderful at all ages.

  • Resi has attracted a 17 year old — we aren’t given the backstory of this relationship but it is obviously ongoing until about 30 minutes into act 2 — and she is a smart, beautiful, sensuous woman with many good years ahead of her. It would be shortsighted not to see another young man — perhaps several — in her future. In act 3 she renounces her young lover, not her sex life. That will surely continue.

  • LF

    Think all of the points below are true, and would add the theme of irony which has such depth in Rosenkavalier: the punchlines of the opera are various -- that the Marschallin isn’t an old woman, having already had her rock n roll with a teenager, there’s good odds she’ll do the same again, that Octavian’s continuity with Sophie isn’t guaranteed, and ultimately, in any case Octavian isn’t *quite* the “man” he seems to be. (Sometimes I think the key joke in Rosenkavalier is that the only ideal man for a woman is in fact another woman, but I digress). A hundred+ years of performance tradition (and probably one of the most rigid traditions, given the longetivity of the 3 Schenk productions) mean that the opera has tended to focus on the age of the Marschallin, or more likely the age of the singer playing Marschallin. Indeed, how many criticisms have we had in last few years because the singer playing Octavian was visibly not a hot, lithe young thing? The performance tradition in some ways, may get in the way of the text or reveal it more, as the case may be.
    I don’t know Antony & Cleopatra but it does sound a little over egged if Cleo was indeed 39 which kicking the bucket. Either way, there is a slightly nonsensical notion which doesn’t see older women as entitled to sexual craic over 40, which is well represented by the fact that US insurers fund Viagra as a treatment rather than something recreational and non-essential, while no comparable product even exists for older women.

  • Larry Rudiger

    Can this woman read music? Or German? Apparently not. What a crock. It sort of reminds me of Camille Paglia (remember her?) The chapters of “Sexual Personae” that had to pass muster in peer review to get published were head and shoulders against the rest, which was a facile pile of rot. This reads as lazy, blowzy, and a bit stupid.