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The voluminous correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, first published in 1952, opened up a variety of perspectives on the collaborators’ working relationship, their musical and dramatic models, and the evolution of their operas from conception to completion. These letters, along with Strauss’s musical sketches and Hofmannsthal’s drafts of the libretto, inspired numerous critical studies over the last half century or so. Accounts of the genesis of Der Rosenkavalier (1911) often begin with Hofmannsthal’s declaration in February 1909: “I have spent three quiet afternoons here drafting the full and entirely original scenario for an opera. . . . I find the scenario enchanting and Count [Harry] Kessler with whom I discussed it is delighted with it” (The Correspondence Between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, trans. Hanns Hammelmann and Ewald Osers [London: Collins, 1961], 26–27). Here and elsewhere, Hofmannsthal downplays Kessler’s involvement; he later wrote to Strauss, for instance, that Kessler “assisted in sketching out the Rosenkavalier scenario, pleasantly and skillfully, though perhaps he tends rather to over-estimate the importance of his help” (Correspondence, pp. 425–26). In his recent book, Creating Der Rosenkavalier, Michael Reynolds documents Kessler’s original contributions to the scenario and his ongoing counsel to Hofmannsthal as the libretto took shape, arguing that Kessler deserves credit as a co-creator of Strauss’s most popular opera. Reynolds draws evidence from the nearly 400 letters that Kessler and Hofmannsthal exchanged between 1898 and 1929 as well as from their correspondence with others. Further revealing details emerge from Kessler’s diary, which he maintained from the age of twelve until his death in 1937 (Harry Kessler, Das Tagebuch 1880–1937, ed. Roland S. Kamzelak and Ulrich Ott, 9 vols. [Stuttgart: Cotta, 2004–2010]).
Earlier scholarship on Der Rosenkavalier identifies literary sources, such as Pierre Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, as influential, and traces connections between Der Rosenkavalier and the operatic models that Strauss and Hofmannsthal discussed in their letters. While such influences shaped aspects of the finished work, Hofmannsthal generally receives credit for inventing the opera’s dramatic situations and characters. In a convincing revision of this narrative, Reynolds traces the derivation of Der Rosenkavalier from the French operetta L’ingénu libertin (1907) by Louis Artus and Claude Terrasse, which Kessler saw during the 1907–8 season at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens. About a year later, Kessler shared the details of L’ingénu libertin with Hofmannsthal, and the operetta served as their most significant point of reference as the [End Page 269] scenario developed; it was far more consequential than Beaumarchais, William Hogarth, or other sources identified in previous studies. Kessler was crucial not only in helping to launch the project but also in ensuring its completion, as Hofmannsthal relied heavily on Kessler’s ongoing encouragement and insights. Reynolds summarizes Kessler’s original ideas, which go beyond the French operetta, as follows: “the new relationship . . . between Faublas [Octavian] and Sophie, the amalgamation of Rosambert and the Marquis de Bay into the character of Pourceaugnac/Ochs, the dispatch by Ochs of Faublas to be his love emissary to Sophie, the pantomime of the Sophie–Faublas meeting at the start of Act II, the final scene of Act III, as well as countless small details of stagecraft and dramatic characterization throughout” (p. 216).
The opening chapter of Creating Der Rosenkavalier, “Overture,” introduces a range of plot similarities between L’ingénu libertin and Der Rosenkavalier and establishes Kessler’s associations with Hofmannsthal. The first full chapter, “Beginners,” surveys Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray’s novel Une année de la vie du Chevalier de Faublas (1787) and its subsequent stage adaptations in France, leading to L’ingénu libertin. “Act One: The Young Libertine” explores the production of L’ingénu libertin in Paris, focusing on connections between Artus’s scenario and Louvet de Couvray’s Une année with respect to Der Rosenkavalier. Reynolds offers a glimpse of Terrasse’s music, drawing upon the published vocal...