Richard Strauss


Op. 72, TrV 246

About this work

In 1916, in a letter oulining future projects to his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss suggested "an entirely modern, absolutely realistic domestic comedy" or "some amusing piece of love or intrigue." Neither idea appealed to von Hofmannsthal and, at various times over the next five years, Strauss worked on an opera, originally called "Das eheliche Glück" (Married Bliss), to his own libretto. Completed in 1926 and retitled Intermezzo, it is described by the composer as "A Bourgeois Comedy with Symphonic Interludes in Two Acts."

The time is "the present" (1924), and the action takes place at a ski resort in Austria and in Vienna. The plot is unashamedly autobiographical, with all the characters based on actual individuals. Strauss ("The Conductor") calls himself Robert Storch, and his wife (a soprano) is renamed Christine. When Storch's marriage is threatened by a passionate love letter from an unknown female admirer (who, of course, turns out to be another soprano), his wife plans to divorce him. The situation is saved by a classic confusion of identities: the note was intended for someone with a name similar to Storch. All is forgiven, and he is reunited with his wife.

As operatic material the tale does not sound promising, but Strauss was equal to the task of turning what, in his reminiscences in 1942, he describes as "a harmless little story" into a evening's solid musical entertainment. Twelve orchestral interludes bring lyrical expression to what would otherwise have been an evening of domestic bickering. One of these, setting the scene at an inn, strongly resembles the waltz sequences in the third act of Der Rosenkavalier.

Intermezzo has never proved popular outside German-speaking countries. It was not performed in New York until 1963 or in England until 1974. The opera has its moments: conversational exchanges are underlined with subtle orchestration, and the interludes contain moments of vintage Strauss. But the final effect is of a pallid reworking of parts of Der Rosenkavalier.