Die schweigsame Frau
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.
Strauss was then admired by the Nazis who had recently taken over Germany; Strauss himself was collaborating with the Nazis, though his daughter-in-law Alice and hence his grandchildren were Jewish and therefore at risk. The Nazis were not happy that the new opera of their favourite composer had a libretto by Zweig who was also Jewish. 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 said to have been authorized by Hitler himself. Zweig thought it prudent not to be present. The run was interrupted after the second or third performance, as the Gestapo had intercepted a private letter from Strauss to Zweig in which the elderly composer was asking Zweig to write the libretto for a further opera. This led, according to Zweig, to Strauss' resignation as president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the Nazi state institute for music.
A work of great charm when well cast and performed, it has nevertheless proved one of Strauss' less successful operas. Strauss' association with a Jewish librettist in 1935 Germany provoked a hostile response from Hitler and Goebbels, and even after the war, it has enjoyed relatively few revivals.
|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|
|Morbio, opera singer||baritone||Rudolf Schmalnauer|
|Vanuzzi, opera singer||deep bass||Kurt Böhme|
|Farfallo, opera singer||deep bass||Ludwig Ermold|
|Other actors, neighbors|
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".
Opera House and Orchestra
Georgine von Milinkovic,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
|Audio CD: DG
Cat: DG 445 335-2
Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus
(Audio recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, 14 July)
|Audio CD: Orfeo,
Cat: C 516992 I
Staatskapelle Dresden and Dresden State Opera Chorus
|Audio CD: Testament
- Zweig, Stefan (2010) . Die Welt von Gestern. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. pp. 378–387.
- Recordings of Die schweigsame Frau on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Amadeus Almanac, accessed 6 November 2008
- Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5