Comic scenes from a marriage take a conductor-husband on tour and his lonely wife to the ski slopes, where a toboggan collision brings her a new ‘friend’ to add to the romantic confusion.
Meghan DeWald stars as the determined Christine with Ryan Milstead as her distracted conductor-husband Robert. Richard Strauss’s somewhat auto-biographical 1923 opera is the fourth in a series of ravishing but lesser-known works by this 20th century master in PFO’s cycle of critically acclaimed Strauss operas, following the company’s celebrated Ariadne on Naxos in 2014, Capriccio in 2015, and The Silent Woman in 2016.
Join the cast at the Opening Night Party with light fare immediately following the performance on Friday 21 July.
Sung in English with projected titles in English.
Intermezzo is a Pennsylvania premiere.
This production of Intermezzo is made possible through the generous support of:
- Jerry Clack
- William and Victoria Guy
Intermezzo is presented by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes Inc, publisher and copyright owner.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Interview with Maestro McMunn
|Music and Libretto||Richard Strauss|
|English Translation||Andrew Porter|
|Scenic Design||Hank Bullington|
|Projection Design||Hank Bullington|
|Costume Design||Krista Ivan|
|Lighting Design||Madeleine Steineck|
|Hair and Makeup Design||Rikkilee Rose|
|Assistant Director||Eunbi Cho|
|Stage Manager||Kathleen Stakenas|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Lauren Wickett|
|Christine Storch||Meghan DeWald|
|Robert Storch||Ryan Milstead|
|Baron Lummer||Jason Slayden|
|The Notary||Adam Hollick|
|His Wife||Elise Mark|
|A Commercial Counselor||Robert Gerold|
|A Legal Counselor||Evan Koons|
|A Celebrated Singer||Adam Cioffari|
Chaos! Christine Storch is packing her husband Robert’s suitcases. A well-known conductor, he has an engagement in Vienna. Tension grows. She complains to him about the servants, about his absent mindedness about everything. Finally, he shuffles off to breakfast only to return shortly afterwards to say good-bye. Later Christine complains to her maid Anna that her husband is always away, only to be interrupted by a telephone call from a friend who invites her to go skating.
At the nearby resort she runs into the penniless Baron Lummer. After a brief conversation she discovers that she knows his parents. She invites him to visit her. Later she goes for tea at the Grundlsee, and a few days later helps him finds lodgings.
The scene changes. Christine is finishing a letter to her husband praising Baron Lummer as one who sees her as a woman, not just the wife of a famous composer. At that moment Lummer appears and soon begins to complain about his financial woes. Christine promises to take the matter up with her husband, but Lummer suggests that she lend him a thousand marks. Cagily she avoids the issue.
In the following scene, as Christine mulls over Lummer’s request, a letter arrives for her husband. She opens it and to her horror reads, “My darling, send me two tickets again for the opera tomorrow. Afterwards, as always, we’ll meet in the bar. Your Mieze Meier.” )In passing, Mieze in German means “Pussy Cat.”)
Infuriated she sends her husband a telegram announcing that she is leaving him and in the next breath she orders her suitcases to be packed.
Finally, taking refuge in her son Franzl’s bedroom, filled with grief and self-pity, she hints at her husband’s misdeeds and tells her son they must leave home.
At the home of the Commercial Councilor a game of skat is in progress. The company includes conductor Stroh. They await Robert, commenting from time to time on the volubility of his wife Christine. When Storch arrives, the game begins in earnest. Moments later Christine’s telegram arrives. After reading it, Storch rushes away in a state of distraction while the game begins anew.
At the lawyer’s office, Christine discovers that he is willing to take on the case but only after speaking with her husband.
The scene shifts to Vienna’s Prater Park, where Storch, in a state of distraction, wanders around aimlessly. Suddenly Stroh appears and reveals that the letter was intended for him. It has been wrongly delivered because of the similarities of their names.
Christine continues her preparations for departure. She relates that she has sent Baron Lummer to find “Pussy Cat” Meier, but she is not sure that he has the brains to manage an investigation. A telegram arrives from her husband explaining the misunderstanding and stating that he is on the way home.
No sooner does he enter the house than she begins to harangue him so severely that he storms out of the room, allowing time for a visit from Lummer. But Christine dismisses Lummer abruptly when Robert returns, ready now to tease her about her attraction to Lummer. Repentant for a moment Christine promises never to upset her husband ever again, and then in her inimitable fashion sums up the situation with the remark, “This is what people call a happy marriage, right?”
Although under the influence of Richard Wagner early in his career, Richard Strauss soon observed that if he were to pursue a career as an opera composer he must find alternate avenues of expression. Contemporary operatic efforts were to a great degree uninspired efforts to follow in Wagner’s philosophic convictions and musical practices. There is no better example than the eighteen epics composed by Wagner's son Siegfried.
In such a context Strauss turned away from the philosophy of Schopenhauer who suggests that it is human will which generates conflict and suffering—witness Tannhaüser, Lohengrin, The Ring, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal. Instead he embraced the more positive message of Friedrich Nietzsche whose message is the affirmation of life. For Strauss (and his librettists) this affirmation takes the form of reconciliation between opposing points of view, a phenomenon we have already observed in Ariadne on Naxos and The Silent Woman and which we shall see again this summer in Intermezzo as well as in coming years with Arabella and The Love of Danae.
Furthermore, since to continue opera in the Wagnerian musical mold would be not productive, Strauss sought to reinvigorate operatic practices by a return to his distinguished predecessors such Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Monteverdi and Pergolesi, to name but a few.
I hope that the distinguished Strauss scholar Bryan Gilliam (don't miss his lecture here) will forgive my superficial summary of the arguments in his latest book, Rounding Wagner’s Mountain, but there is little room for an extended exegesis in our program.
This brings us then to Intermezzo, wedged between The Woman Without a Shadow (certainly Strauss’ most ambitious work) and The Egyptian Helen. Gilliam has labeled these three efforts “The Wedding Operas,” since they deal with the reconciliation of married couples.
Strauss himself wrote the libretto, calling the opera Intermezzo, a delightfully ambiguous title. To the operagoer, it recalls the musical interludes between the acts of opera seria, such a commonplace fixture in eighteenth century Italian opera. It might also mark the interval between Strauss’ collaboration with Hugh von Hofmannsthal on The Woman Without a Shadow and the soon to materialize Egyptian Helen. But more temptingly, it signals one of his episodic breaks with his tempestuous wife, the opera singer Pauline von Ahna which is the thinly veiled substance of the plot of Intermezzo.
In short, the opera is based on a rather painful incident in Strauss’ life when a forward young lady by the name of Mitzi Mücke, mistaking the name Strauss for that of the conductor Josef Stransky, sent a request for opera tickets in affectionate terms to the composer. Pauline opened the letter, read it, and without questioning the circumstances visited a solicitor, and prepared to file for divorce. The suggestion is that Strauss—always the humorous Bavarian—is in this opera laying an old ghost to rest by turning a painful incident in his life into an affectionate jest—in short making gesture of reconciliation.
When first mounted in Dresden on November 4, 1924, as part of a celebration of Strauss’ sixtieth birthday, Intermezzo attracted a great deal of attention in so far as its satire was anything but subtle. The name changes were transparent. Richard Strauss became Robert Storch, Pauline, his wife Christine, Mitzi Möcke emerges as Mieze Meier, while Anna, the Strauss’ servant of thirty-four years, retains her identity as Anna in the cast. Moreover gossip around town had always characterized Pauline as a fanatical housekeeper and as always talking about her husband. So she is characterized in the opera. And, lest anyone should be so dense as “not to get it,” Joseph Correck, who portrayed Robert, was “got up” to look like the composer. Supposedly Pauline knew nothing of the plot of the opera until the première. When Lotte Lehmann, who sang the role of Christine, congratulated her on the “marvelous present to you from your husband,” Pauline reportedly snapped back, “I don’t give a damn.”
As an addendum, Strauss’ concern was that the intelligibility of his operatic texts should not be overlooked. It is interesting the way in which he sought clarity in Intermezzo, a domestic comedy in which comprehensibility of the text is paramount. He had recourse to his distinguished predecessors whom we have already mentioned. There is spoken dialogue, melodrama in which spoken text is enhanced by orchestral support, recitativo secco, and occasionally song at the end of each act. However, the emotional experience of the characters—usually expressed in a passionate aria—is conveyed by the eight interludes which additionally expedite scene changes and give the production a cinematic character. These, as one might expect, are the most famous features of the opera.
Meet the Composer
[born Munich, 11 June 1864; died Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 8 Sept 1949]
Richard Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.
During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father's cousin. In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn, the instrument his father played.
In early 1882 in Vienna Strauss gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher and "cousin" Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings.
Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.
Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), were controversial works: Guntram was the first significant critical failure of Strauss's career, and Feuersnot was considered obscene by some critics.
In 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences. The premiere was a major success, with the artists taking more than 38 curtain calls. Many later performances of the opera were also successful, not only with the general public but also with Strauss's peers: Maurice Ravel said that Salome was "stupendous", and Mahler described it as "a live volcano, a subterranean fire". Strauss reputedly financed his magnificent house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen completely from the revenues generated by the opera.
Strauss's next opera was Elektra (1909), which took his use of dissonance even further. Elektra was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two subsequently worked together on numerous occasions. For his later works with Hofmannsthal, Strauss moderated his harmonic language: he used a more lush, melodic late-Romantic style based on Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that he had used in his tone poems, with much less dissonance, and exhibiting immense virtuosity in orchestral writing and tone color. This resulted in operas such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911) having great public success. Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1942. With Hofmannsthal he created Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932). For Intermezzo (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto. Die schweigsame Frau (1934), was composed with Stefan Zweig as librettist; Friedenstag (1935–6) and Daphne (1937) both had a libretto by Joseph Gregor and Stefan Zweig; and Die Liebe der Danae (1940) was with Joseph Gregor. Strauss's final opera, Capriccio (1942), had a libretto by Clemens Krauss, although the genesis for it came from Stefan Zweig and Joseph Gregor.