Der Rosenkavalier [The Knight of the Rose] (1925) + Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Geoffrey Paterson

Der Rosenkavalier
Director: Robert Wiene
Writer: Louis Nerz, Robert Wiene
Based on: the opera by Richard Strauss (music) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (libretto)
Cast: Michael Bohnen, Huguette Duflos, Paul Hartmann, Jaque Catelain, Elly Felicie Berger, Carmen Cartellieri, Karl Forest, Friedrich Feher
Part of: Film and Music Cycle in the Konzerthaus
With music by Richard Strauss played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson
Seen on: 25.5.2018

Content note: questionable consent

Plot:
Countess Maria Theresia von Werdenberg (Huguette Duflos) is surprised by her cousin Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau (Michael Bohnen) while the young Octavian (Jacque Catelain) is in her room. Octavian quickly dresses up as a chambermaid and escapes notice, especially since Ochs has his own problems: he is looking to get married to Sophie (Elly Felicie Berger), hoping to get out of debt by the connection. The Countess suggests that Octavian could be his “Rosenkavalier”, his second in command for the wedding, a mix of messenger and wedding planner. Ochs agrees to the suggestion, but Octavian proves to be a difficult choice for everybody.

Der Rosenkavalier has beautiful music, but not much else about it worked for me, despite the obviously lavish production.

Film poster showing Jaque Catelain and Huguette Duflos.

[SPOILERS.]

I’m generally not much one for comedies of errors. I usually find them exhausting and a little boring and not particularly funny. (There are exceptions.) Der Rosenkavalier is only half of one, but it’s enough to give it a difficult start with me. It turns out, though, that it being a comedy of errors is not that much of a problem compared to the treatment of the Countess.

The film starts with her just hanging around in her room and Octavian climbing in through her window and she’s obviously not into it. And we can probably argue about how much he pressures her into sleeping with him – with a very theatrical style of acting, even for a silent film, it’s not so easy to read from today’s perspective – but he is definitely the one who pursues her, despite her being married. And then he drops her at the first opportunity because he falls in love with Sophie. The film doesn’t take a second to think about the Countess though, because it is so busy with making sure Octavian gets a happy end. Finally, Octavian gets everything he wants, including a blessing from the Countess who is left with no other choice.

Film still.

Boy, I hated both Octavian and how the story treats the Countess, who I very much empathized with. She was caught between a rock and a hard place and didn’t even get a second of consideration from anyone.

It does have some moments and I really appreciated how the film restaurators dealt with the fact that the ending of the film was swallowed by history – providing stills that still exist and describing what would happen. And as I said, I really did love the music. But other than that, I really found the plot and the entire framing of the story problematic and aggravating.

Film still.

Summarizing: Maybe it’s better to just listen to the music.

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