The Marschallin of All Mondays, Part 2

Three weeks plus now since we came home and – sigh – it’s been full. Full of being the FierceRev, in the streets and organizing meetings and courtrooms and preaching seminars and podcasting and sermon-writing and celebrations and…well whew.  And still feeling very protective of this experience in a way, as I shared in my last post.  But I tell you.

Three weeks and I’m not over it, and I don’t ever want to be over it, to be honest, and if you ask me about it I will still cry.

In all that these three weeks have brought, more than once a day, more than twice a day, I have closed my eyes and brought myself to the Family Circle, as the overture plays and my knees are shaking and the curtain rises on an inner wall of the Marschallin’s palace, a ginormous double door in the center and Octavian, all moony-eyed, wanders out and lights a cigarette and I squeeze my cielo’s hand any moment any moment any moment and the door is ajar and then finally finally the Marschallin steps through the door and leans on the frame and the birds are calling and away we go and I can barely be contained and all I have to do is close my eyes and remember and I am there, I am there and in my being the musical line soars and so do I…


Wie du bist
Wie du bist
Wie du bist….

If ever an opera swooned along with you,  it would be this one…

~ ~ ~

I’ve actually been working on this post over the span of these three-plus weeks. I keep waiting for my thoughts to coalesce in some sort of whole, but they won’t.  Perhaps they aren’t meant to.  So, here we are, logical order of whatever be damned, haha.

So, I have a developing theory about Rosenkavalier, and I’ve come to it by watching and listening to Renée sing the end of Act 1 monologue/duet repeatedly.  In particular:  I bought the DVD of the Baden-Baden Rosenkavalier and watched it while I was on retreat a month ago (you can see part of that scene here).  What I noticed then, after the levee and the Marschallin dismisses Ochs with impatience, is that her change of mood is not first about “the passing of time,” but about Ochs, and how he’s going to make a profit off of marrying Sophie. It’s what she “talks” about first.  And she remembers how she too was forced into the same kind of marriage, when she was just a girl “fresh from the convent” (like Sophie). “Where is she now?”  The pondering about time comes after she wonders what has happened to that little Resi, that young woman (girl?) sold off for profit.

What I mean is, I knew that is in the text, but I didn’t get the meaning of it until I watched Renée embody it.

Listening to the Met radio broadcast this past Saturday on a lovely drive to hike in the wilderness, Mary Jo Heath interviewed Renée about Rosenkavalier and the Marschallin. Through the static as we went around mountain curves we heard her talk about this as her favorite role, how she’s grown in her understanding of it, and the end of Act 1 as her favorite part of the opera.

“You can tell,” I said when the interview was over, “you can tell it’s her favorite part, she pays such close attention to the text, to what is happening around and inside this character.”

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And yes, we all know I go all mooney-eyed-Octavian over her but it’s also this: Renée loves this role, and it shows, and I love watching her/listening to her work her way through it.  This was no less the case this night at the Met.

What more can we ask of a singer, than to love the role? Obviously to sing well, as well as one can in the moment, but also: to love the role.  To love the text, to love what the music is teaching us, to love the inner life of the character (and there is so much inner life to the Marschallin).

So because Renée is so thoughtful about this character, I am too.  I love her commitment to the role.  What a gift to be able to witness her, in house, as she navigated this role she loves, with such attention to the text and its details.

She taught me to pay attention.

So I did. I watched in the Baden-Baden production how she’s weary from the beginning of that Act 1 monologue, she orders everyone out, Ochs out finally and she’s so over it all.  She has not yet begun pondering about “the passing of time,” precisely, she is wondering what has happened to her.  And she doesn’t like it. It’s in her face but even moreso it’s how she uses the consonants.  Like they cause her pain (the album is on Spotify if you want to listen. You can see it in the 2010 Met production too, though I think the 2009 Baden Baden is even wearier. Interesting the difference a production can make).

Da geht er hin, der aufgeblasene schlechte Kerl…
There he goes, that bloated, worthless guy….

Same at the Met. Even though  I could not see her facial expressions well from where we sat, her verbal ones were crystal clear, diction and color.  There’s anguish there.

So I saw this in the DVD and began thinking about it, reading the libretto, listening again to sections, reading and listening to interviews (and emailing Anik German questions, deepest of thanks!).  What is the Marschallin saying? What is Octavian saying (to her and to Sophie both).  And brought with me to the Met this idea that I was noodling around with:

Rosenkavalier is not, even as Renée (and literally everyone) says it is (sorry!  I’m so sorry!  Can we have tea and talk about it?), about simply “the passage of time” and “growing old” and giving way to young love.  The passing of time, and the Marschallin’s concern with it, comes in a context, and that context is patriarchy and misogyny and militarism.  (Which surprises me since it’s written by two men but well, there you go).

I think about things like:

  • The Marschallin asks Octavian not to be “like all men are.”  All men…like the Field Marshall? Like Ochs?  What does she mean, that all men (aka the patriarchy) are violent, grasping, in anything for their own gain? Octavian doesn’t get it (“I don’t know how all men are”), although I wonder if he does eventually.
  • In the beginning of Act 1, she seems afraid of the Field Marshall, when they think he’s coming, and not just because he’s going to catch them, I don’t think. He does not seem to share the room, since the Marschallin thinks her footmen can keep him out. She says she is forced into marriage, and it’s an unhappy one (unhappy for her).
  • “It’s the way of the world” reads more to me (from watching/listening to Renée but also the music and other clues in the libretto) as resignation, not acceptance. Otherwise, why would she keep asking Octavian “Don’t be like all men are?” (back to that again). She tells him he will leave her for a younger, prettier woman…because that’s what “all men” do because that’s what patriarchy does to women.
  • Her last line in the Trio then strikes me interesting, given the above, “he will be happy, as men understand happiness.” Don’t be like all men…
  • What power does the Marschallin have? What agency? To take lovers, yes, but structurally?  Does she feel trapped in this marriage she was forced into?  Is that why she wonders what happened to little Resi?  Is that why she can say “where is she now” while also saying “I am always the same” (as Anik says, she still identifies as the same person).  What *did* happen to little Resi anyway? (I can see all of this monologue as a way of saying, “what has patriarchy made of me?”).
  • “Why does [God] let me watch it, why is it this way” has a different timbre in this reading of it.  Again, it’s not “aging” per se. It’s becoming “Die alte Frau” in the context of a patriarchal culture that only values young women as objects to be sold (or bought).
  • On the matter of agency, does she have the power to get Sophie free of Ochs herself?  Perhaps not directly. But does she suspect that by sending Octavian, whom she loves for some reason, perhaps because he has the potential to *not* be like all men, that might save Sophie from Resi’s fate? Of course in the end the Marschallin still has to come in and resolve everything, but it’s curious to think about.
  • But also this: the presence of militarism. These men have power and it’s backed up by weapons and military. I think in more traditional productions this is not really highlighted (it’s very much present in this one).  But the Field Marshall, well obviously he’s military. Faninal makes his money in dealing weapons – and a whole lotta money at that, given his fancy house (houses?) and that he’s able to marry sell his daughter into nobility (for all that Ochs is “noble” but still). Here’s still from Act 2, Sophie being manhandled by Ochs while his military buddies look on.

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One last thought about all this which is:  that famous line of the Marschallin’s about stopping all the clocks.  Why doesn’t anyone ever point out that Ochs says 3 times, “it’s all going like clockwork.” Twice in Act 2 and once in Act 3.

1. Geht all’s so wie am Schnurl! (umlaut on the u in Schnurl).
2. Geht all’s rech am Schnurl so wie z’Haus.
3. …dass in Wien all’s so wie am Schnurl geht.

All three times Ochs is gloating that he’s about to get what he wants:  1. Sophie and a big wad of cash. 2. Mariandel and well… 3. Let off by the police commission (in which case he’s saying he assumes all in Vienna goes like clockwork).  “Like clockwork” means he assumes everything is structured and moves so that he gets what he wants – money, power, prestige, sex, presumed innocence.

Stop all the clocks.

Wouldn’t  you?

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Well, these are the thoughts that have been rambling around in my head since the end of March, stirred even more by the Met show, and I come back to what provoked them, which was Renée.

Basically (I’m still rambling here) there’s no way on earth I wasn’t going to love her.  Right? I did.  Her own passion at the beginning of Act 1, gradually shifting over the act til you’re left hearbroken as she leaves for church, alone, at the end. (I cried. Did I mention I cried?)  Then her dignified anguish at the end of Act 3.  In the 2010 production you see that some (OK I cried then too) but even more so now.

I love the action there, by the way, the coming together then bursting apart like that coinciding with the music, I find it very powerful. Even from the Family Circle it was effective, it felt like a punch in the chest making everything even more…just…I mean who really has words for the Trio?…and then the way the Marschallin walks off, ugh, my heart already, my heart!

So since we’re on that subject, here are some production related thoughts, too.

  • Act 1 doesn’t start with Octavian and the Marschallin in bed. This was fascinating to me (a little disappointing? haha), that we seem them most intimate in a hallway *outside* the Marschallin’s bedroom.  You never see them in bed together, actually, except for once when Octavian is trying (I think at the end of the Act) and the Marschallin has to push him off (again…don’t be like all men…I keep coming back to that).  They share the chocolate and that is sweet but after that…the Marschallin keeps him more and more at bay, even before the levee.  Ochs gets in her bed, though! Gross!  And the end of Act 3 has Sophie lead Octavian to the bed (what? yes!), and there stay there…all the way to the end…

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, living room and indoor

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  • Her bedroom?  Is ENORMOUS.  The hallways through the door really do seem to go on forever.  It dwarfs her, especially at the end when she’s all alone. That longing, singing solo violin as she walks through the huge space really spoke to me of her loneliness, and perhaps resignation (when she sees herself as old, she is still the Field Marshall’s wife).
  • In all three acts the space is laid out the same way, the angled back walls coming to an angle at the back of the stage (so, making an isosceles triangle with the wide side being the front of the stage, like this). All have a door on the left side that opens out into hallways – many, as in the Marschallin’s case, or one large one in Act 2, or a small one in Act 3.  To me this highlighted some of the class differences – from vast to small.

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  • Interestingly too, the Act 1 space feels so huge, but Act 2, Faninal’s palace, feels small, even thought it has to be laid out exactly the same.  Tricks of the eye (also that flooring really is hard on the head to look at for a whole act!). But again, Faninal is trying to be so over-the-top grand (check the giant Greco-Roman war paintings on the walls!), but cannot match the Marschallin.
  • Now, Carsen is clearly drawing parallels by making the stagings of Act 1 and 3 so similar.  Same layout including where the furniture is, and ALL THE RED, and the giant Carsen bed, and big paintings on the walls.  Additionally, both acts open with the outside hallway (the wall pulled up to reveal the room eventually) with a center door (Act 3 has other doors, for other rooms in the brothel.
  •   And it is CLEARLY a brothel. In the previous production it felt like, I dunno, a dusty room somewhere? But here it’s clearly a brothel. And the act starts off with Ochs’s military buddies and son going in and out of the rooms.  The Landlord is a drag queen which I thought was perfect, really. During the “tricks” played on Ochs the paintings suddenly become…what do you call those boxes in walls where there are dancers? And um they were naked. I was astounded the Met would have that (not that *I* minded, necessarily, they just tend to be more…stuffy).
  • So, why?  Highlighting the similarities (layout etc.) and the brothel-ness of the brothel made me think: is there anything really that different about what is happening in the brothel than what Ochs is trying to do in Act 1 (and 2)? (Pretty sure the answer is no).  So I thought the Act 3 stuff was effective in that way.
  • As I have said, the military was quite present including giant guns under which Sophie and Octavian sing a love duet.  So at the end of Act 3 (spoiler) the back walls fade away and a squad of military starts marching forward (including the Field Marshall?) into battle (and die) — I guess some found that out of no where but it didn’t actually feel that way to me…I mean…well…it’s all going like clockwork, right?
  • A fascinating little detail to me:  The Marschallin wears this robe after she and Octavian “come in” from the hall, through the levee until she changes. Now, when Octavian changes (the call girls dress him actually) in Act 3 to become Mariandel, she wears that robe, and a wig that from the back that looks like the Marschallin’s.  The call girls stand around Octavian so you can’t see him, and then step back and his back is to the audience, and I thought, “what?! they changed him into the Marschallin?  that’s just mean!”).  A really interesting choice that I’m still thinking about, couple with how Octavian kind of mimics some of the Marschallin’s words from Act 1.

All right so…I’m going to stop here!  For now that is.  Tomorrow we will go see the Met HD broadcast (BECAUSE OF COURSE WE ARE, that was on my calendar before we even knew we were going to the Met) and I know I will have more to say then! (Like, I have another whole set of things to say about Octavian and how Elina Garanca actually made me believe Octavian is a 17 year old BOY).

But you can be sure.  There will be swooning. And crying. And more of same.

Smelling salts already packed.



Again, production photos by Ken Howard, via Facebook.


12 thoughts on “The Marschallin of All Mondays, Part 2

  1. Thank you for this, there are new bits in there even for me on the patriarchy/structural oppression intersecting with class line. Never really took such a look at some of these before. (and I say this as a native speaker who has worked both in productions of this opera and worked on it theoretically).


  2. “what?! they changed him into the Marschallin? that’s just mean!”). A really interesting choice that I’m still thinking about, couple with how Octavian kind of mimics some of the Marschallin’s words from Act 1.
    I always thought it matters that he uses “Marschallin speak” in Act III. He’s obviously paid attention to what she’s been saying though he can’t quite grasp what she’s on about due to gender and age difference. But this production’s particular accent I think highlights how all he knows about women is what he learned in Die Marschallin’s company (not just erotically). Also how he – even jokingly – thinks that looking like her would make him irresistible to any man. It’s how young people learn (astute from Hofmannsthal but then he was “the man”), half jokingly, because they don’t quite get it but some things will stick and they will influence the way they see the world. There’s the other thing, where sometimes (often?) when one loves, on one level they want to be the person they love. There really is a lot of psychological depth to be read in… all Hofmannsthal libretti.
    I agree with all you said about what Die Marschallin talks about before she gets to the passing of time ❤ that's what makes it even more powerful and makes her one of the most interesting characters; she really understands what's going on with the world in general but she can also detach herself from her own experience and achieve true perspective.


    1. Yes! I love all you say. I’m not sure I think it’s “mean” now but it’s definitely a detail that gives one pause.

      I agree with you, I think, that all he knows of women is the Marschallin (which, we admit, is plenty to know, thank you very much 😉 )…and also…what are we then to make of what Sophie says after listing all his names, including QuinQuin, called by “all the beautiful women with whom he’s in favor”? I suppose that doesn’t mean he has had anything like his relationship with the Marschallin, I suppose. But yes, the way he comes back to her words without entirely understanding them…like the stuff about time in Act 1/Act 3. Is it a caricature, or is he doing the best he knows to sound philosophical and attractive?

      so much to ponder!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think Sophie means all the beautiful women are talking about him among themselves and perhaps “joke” they would love it if he paid closer attention to them. Also there is a good possibility he’s at least made out with a few before the Marschallin came into play. I don’t think anything happened afterwards 😉 though you never know, he must amuse himself somehow when the Field Marshall is around. Also, I wonder how secret is their relationship. Secret from the Filed Marshall perhaps (does he care?) but how about everyone else? Though Sophie seems stricken when she realises they had a thing, so perhaps they are quite discreet.

        Is it a caricature, or is he doing the best he knows to sound philosophical and attractive?

        It probably depends on how you play him. Usually I feel it as a caricature because at that age you really have no grasp on the passing of time but I think he
        has empathy and senses it bothers Die Marschallin (for some reason), so there is something slighly deeper there (also that scene goes on a bit so it gives him time to get a bit more intense).

        definitely much to ponder and also fun. Gives quite a bit of room to the singers to imply all sorts of background for their characters.

        I really enjoyed all these installments 🙂 it’s always extra when you can feel the writer’s excitement.


        1. I hope you are able to live blog it with us, because I would love to hear your thoughts on Act 3 when they flipped the power and play “Mariandel” as aggressive and Ochs doesn’t know what to do. Which adds another layer to ponder about what Octavian is doing there. And then this is the first time I’ve felt Octavian not just confused right before the trio, but that he really doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. Empathy you say above, and yes.


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