Last night I was at the Metropolitan Opera for a performance of Der Rosenkavalier, a Richard Strauss opera I’ll go to whenever it’s performed. That’s how much I love it.
Rosenkavalier is a serious romcom set in aristocratic Vienna of the 1700s. As the raucous Act Three moves toward its conclusion and the crowded stage clears, the four leading characters remain: Baron Ochs, the Marschallin (a princess), Octavian and Sophie.
Baron Ochs, whose gross behavior toward women bears a distinct resemblance to someone we all know, now slowly pulls together the elements of a great trick played upon him.
As he does, he grasps a truth the married Marschallin needs to keep secret — she has been having a passionate affair with Octavian, a much younger man.
He looks back and forth between Octavian and the Marschallin and Octavian and the Marschallin and mumbles, “Damn it all! I can’t get over it! The Field Marshal — Octavian — Mariandel — the Marschallin — Octavian.”
Ah ha! He’s figured it out and now is calculating what he can do with this damaging information.
Hold that in your mind for a second, while I explain that the Met provides each of us opera lovers a small discrete computer screen in front of our seats, giving us the English translation of opera librettos, like Rosenkavalier, not written in English. Thus, we all know precisely what each character is singing as he sings it.
And this is what Baron Ochs now sings and what we all read:
“I still do not know what I should think of this whole quid pro quo!”
At which the entire Met audience, more than 3000 strong, burst into sustained laughter.