Die schweigsame Frau

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Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman), Op. 80, is a 1935 opera in three acts by Richard Strauss with libretto by Stefan Zweig after Ben Jonson's Epicoene, or the Silent Woman.

Composition history[edit]

Since Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, with the only exception of Intermezzo, all previous operas by Strauss were based on libretti by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who died in 1929. Stefan Zweig, who was then a celebrated author, had never met Strauss, who was his senior of 17 years. In his autobiography The World of Yesterday, Zweig describes how Strauss got in touch with him after Hofmannsthal's death to ask him to write a libretto for a new opera. Zweig chose a theme from Ben Jonson.

Politics of the opera[edit]

Strauss was seen as an important icon of German music by the Nazis, who had seized power over Germany in April 1933. Strauss himself was cooperating with the Nazis and became the president the Reichsmusikkammer in November 1933. Stefan Zweig had got to know Strauss well through his collaboration and later wrote that:

to be co-operative with the national socialists was furthermore of vital interest to him, because in the national socialist sense he was very much in the red. His son had married a Jewess and thus he feared that his grandchildren, whom he loved above all else, would be excluded as scum from the schools; his earlier operas tainted through the half-Jew Hugo von Hofmannstahl; his publisher was a Jew. Therefore, to him it seemed more and more imperative to create support and security for himself, and he did it most perseveringly.[1]

The fact that Zweig was a Jew was causing potential problems for the performance of the opera: in the summer of 1934 the Nazi press began to attack Strauss on this issue. Zweig recounts in his autobiography that Strauss refused to withdraw the opera and even insisted that Zweig's authorship of the libretto be credited; the first performance in Dresden was authorized by Hitler himself. Subsequent research has shown that Zweig's account is largely correct.[2][3] We now know that there was an internal power struggle going on within the Nazi government. Joseph Goebbels wanted to use Strauss' international reputation and was willing to relax the rule against works with non-Aryan artists. However, Alfred Rosenberg was more critical of Strauss' unsoundness on the "Jewish question" and wanted to remove Strauss from his position and replace him with party member Peter Raabe. Goebbels took the matter to Hitler, who initially ruled in his favor. However, the Gestapo had been intercepting the correspondence between Strauss and Zweig, in which Strauss had been candid about his critical views of the Nazi regime and his role in it.[4] This letter was shown to Hitler, who then changed his mind. The opera was allowed to run for three performances and then banned. On 6 July 1935, Strauss was visited at his home by a Nazi official sent by Goebbels and told to resign from his position as president of the Reichsmusikkammer on grounds of "ill health," less than 2 years after he had taken up the post. He was duly replaced by Peter Raabe, who remained in place until the fall of the Nazi regime. Although banned in Germany, the opera was performed a few times abroad, including Milan and Prague.[5][6] This would not the first time one of his operas had been banned: Kaiser Wilhelm had banned Feuersnot in 1902. Indeed, the propensity of totalitarian regimes to ban operas was not limited to Germany: a few months later in early 1936 Dmitri Shostakovitch's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was banned by the Soviet regime. Although Strauss outlived the Nazi regime, it was not revived in his lifetime.

Performance history[edit]

It was first performed at the Dresden Semperoper on 24 June 1935, conducted by Karl Böhm.

The work had its United States premiere at the New York City Opera on 7 October 1958. It was performed at The Santa Fe Opera in 1987 and 1991,[7] and also at Garsington Opera in 2003.[8] The Royal Opera House, London presented the work in November 1961.[9]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere, 24 June 1935
(Conductor: Karl Böhm)
Sir Morosus, a retired admiral bass Friedrich Plaschke
Widow Zimmerlein, his housekeeper contralto Helene Jung
Schneidebart, a barber high baritone Mathieu Ahlersmeyer
Henry Morosus, nephew of the admiral high tenor Martin Kremer
Aminta, his wife coloratura soprano Maria Cebotari
Isotta, opera singer coloratura soprano Erna Sack
Carlotta, opera singer mezzo-soprano Maria Hundt[citation needed]
Morbio, opera singer baritone Rudolf Schmalnauer
Vanuzzi, opera singer deep bass Kurt Böhme
Farfallo, opera singer deep bass Ludwig Ermold
The parrot spoken
Other actors, neighbors

Synopsis[edit]

A rich, retired admiral, Sir Morosus, cannot bear noise of any kind, particularly his garrulous housekeeper, so his barber suggests she should be replaced by a quiet young wife. Morosus argues that a silent woman cannot exist and that he is too old to marry. His long-lost nephew Henry appears in pursuit of an inheritance and Morosus believes he has found alternative companionship. However, Henry is married to Aminta, a member of an operatic troupe, and his uncle has no time for such noisy activity. He dismisses the troupe, disinherits Henry and demands the Barber finds a silent woman for the next day. The Barber and Henry hatch a plan and present Morosus with three possible brides (the opera troupe in disguise). Morosus rejects the clumsy peasant (Carlotta) and the bluestocking (Isotta) but falls in love with the quietest called Timidia (Aminta). But as soon as the marriage is sealed her raucous true nature emerges - and she wants to buy a pet parrot. Henry promises to arrange an annulment of the marriage, but Timidia will not accept any bribes as she wants to remain Lady Morosus. Morosus's divorce petition fails but at his point of total despair the deception is revealed. His initial fury turns to laughter and the troupe salute him. Aminta offers daughterly love and Morosus is content to accept Henry as his heir: "A rare delight it is to find a silent, beautiful girl, but it is more delightful when she belongs to another man".

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast
(Henry Morosos,
Sir Morosus,
Housekeeper,
Barber, Aminta)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label[10]
1959 Fritz Wunderlich,
Hans Hotter,
Georgine von Milinkovic,
Hermann Prey,
Hilde Gueden
Karl Böhm,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: DG
Cat: DG 445 335-2
1971 Donald Grobe,
Kurt Böhme,
Martha Mödl,
Barry McDaniel,
Reri Grist
Wolfgang Sawallisch,
Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus
(Audio recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, 14 July)
Audio CD: Orfeo,
Cat: C 516992 I
1977 Eberhard Büchner,
Theo Adam,
Annelies Burmeister,
Wolfgang Schöne,
Jeanette Scovotti
Marek Janowski,
Staatskapelle Dresden and Dresden State Opera Chorus
Audio CD: Testament
Cat: CMS5660332

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Norman Del Mar, Richard Strauss. A Critical commentary on his life and works, Volume 3, London: Faber and Faber (2009)[1968] (second edition), ISBN 978-0-571-25098-1, translation of quote found on page 45.
  2. ^ Michael Walter, "Strauss and the Third Reich", chapter 14,The Cambridge companion to Richard Strauss, (Ed. Charles Youmans), Cambridge University press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-521-72815-7
  3. ^ Pamela Potter, "Strauss and the National Socialists: the Debate and its relevance", pages 93-115 in Richard Strauss: new perspectives on the composer and his work, (Ed. Bryan Gilliam), Durham N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8223-1207-7
  4. ^ Norman Del Mar, page 49.
  5. ^ Zweig, Stefan (2009) [1944]. The world of yesterday. London: Pushkin Press. p. 401. ISBN 978 1 906548 67 4. 
  6. ^ Zweig, Stefan (2010) [1944]. Die Welt von Gestern. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. pp. 378–387. 
  7. ^ "Opera Archives" on santafeopera.org. Retrieved 8 April 2014
  8. ^ "Past Operas", on garsingtonopera.org. Retrieved 8 April 2014
  9. ^ "Royal Opera House Collections Online" with cast listing on rohcollections.org.uk. Retrieved 8 April 2014
  10. ^ Recordings of Die schweigsame Frau on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk

Sources