I am not a regular opera goer. I am a musician. Before I became a 4th grade teacher, I got two degrees in music. My husband and I attend symphony concerts regularly. But the opera has been an occasional experience for us. But last Friday night we went to Lyric Opera of Chicago to see Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. There was a great deal on tickets and we both love the music in Rosenkavalier, so we got tickets.
Der Rosenkavalier, or the Cavalier of the Rose, is both a romance and a comedy. The Marschallin and her much younger lover, Octavian, are very much in love, but the Marschallin knows that eventually he will leave her for a younger woman. She chooses him to present the silver rose to Sophie, the fiancee of her cousin (hence the title of the opera). When Octavian and Sophie meet, they fall instantly in love (of course - it's an opera). Baron von Ochs, who is supposed to marry Sophie, turns out to be quite a boorish oaf, mostly interested in her money. He's also quite the womanizer. The opera alternates between the comedic, featuring Baron von Ochs, and the romantic. Through a clever scheme, Ochs is exposed for what he is, and Octavian and Sophie can marry. The last scene includes a touching trio with the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie, as each expresses their feelings. Octovain is torn between the two women, feeling love for both and loyalty to the Marschellin. The Marschellin sings about the cruelty of time as she ages, and Sophie wonders who Octavian really loves. He chooses Sophie. The Marschellin goes gracefully off.
My husband and I had seen the opera before at Indiana University when our daughter was a student there. Indiana has an excellent opera department. We loved the music, but the opera felt jarring as it went back and forth between the melancholy love story and the blunt comedy of Ochs.
The experience at Lyric Opera was different. The pathos of the Marschellin facing the loss of Octavian and getting older always makes me teary. In Lyric's production though, while Ochs was still an unprincipled skirt chaser, he was softer somehow, and I actually felt a little sorry for him when the Marschallin told him to leave, meaning he didn't get Sophie and her money. I've also kept thinking about the opera since Friday night. This version of it has made a strong impression on me.
As I said, I'm not a regular opera goer, but now I understand why opera fans go to the same opera over and over. Different productions, different singers and directors, make a huge difference. I don't know why it took me so long to realize all this.