The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment back at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tomorrow (17/5) with Der Rosenkavalier, but with a twist. Not the opera but the film suite. What film suite ? Richard Strauss wrote for the movies ? Yes ! In 1926, Robert Wiene, who had directed The Cabinett of Dr. Caligari , made a version of Der Rosenkavalier with the enthusiastic support of Richard Strauss himself. Dr. Caligari pioneered the Expressionist aesthetic.And there was Richard Strauss, if not quite in the vanguard, certainly sympathetic. This should come as no surprise, since he wrote Salomé. Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten. Nuts to the notion that Strauss was sugar and cream. Wiene’s film was screened at the Dresden Opera House, where the original opera itself had premiered fifteen years before, underlining the connection between opera and the new art form of cinema. Wiene's Der Rosenkavalier wasn't an "opera movie" in any modern sense of the word. It wasn't a film of the opera but a work of art in itself, with the opera as starting point. Works of art exist for themselves : there's no law that they have to set originals as given, any more than that art should be history. Please also see my article from 2012, Gay Salomé the 1923 silent movie based on the Salomé storyn that inspired not only Strauss but many others.
The plot loosely follows the novel from which Hugo von Hofmannsthal derived the libretto, with extra scenes like the battlefield on which the Feldmarschall rides to victory and an opera bouffe in a small theatre, where the principals watch their dilemma being acted out. Obviously, the music for the opera would not fit. In any case, what would be the point in a silent movie? Instead Strauss wrote a new soundtrack, based on an orchestra of 17 parts, which mixed extracts from the opera with snippets from other works including Arabella, Burleske, Till Eulenspeigel and Also sprach Zarathustra.
He threw in bits of Wagner and Johann Strauss for further effect. Strauss himself conducted the blend live while the movie screened. How would today's opera snobs react? They take themselves too seriously, methinks, because the Silent Rosenkavalier is a heady cocktail of good film and fun. It captures the savage satire while dressing it up with visuals so frothy they border on excess. This in itself is a dig at the materialistic culture that values frills, yet turns fresh young women into commodities in a cynical marriage marketplace. Swoon at the wigs and acres of lace, but this is no costume drama.
gigantic gryphons five metres high tower over the party goers. In contrast, the actress who plays Sophie expresses her personality with
great sensitivity. Sometimes she looks like a nine year old, too naive to take in what's happening. Her jutting chin and turned up nose indicate her petulance.The rich folk cram into a tiny theatre in the Mehlmarkt to watch a play about "the Proud Father and his humiliation",
narrated in rhyming folk poetry. The Marschallin plans a masked ball. Great crowd scenes. Mystery letters direct Octavian and the Field
Marshal (straight from the battle) to meet a woman in the grotto of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. The last reel of the film is missing but the
inconclusive ending isn't a problem. We know what's going to happen. The last frame shows the little black boy, with his plumed turban,
drawing a curtain and gesturing silence.