Composers > Anecdotes > Strauss: - Die Schweigsame Frau - (The Silent Woman) - Premiered Today in 1935
by Georg Predota | June 24th, 2018

standard Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman)
Premiered Today in 1935

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss’ Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) might be the only opera in the entire oeuvre with a central character who dislikes music. Sir Morosus, a retired British naval officer is allergic to noise of any kind. He disinherits his nephew Henry for joining an opera troupe and for marrying an actress. When Morosus’ barber Schneidebart suggests that Morosus should find a quiet wife, Henry conceives of a plan to regain his uncle’s favor. Henry’s wife, “Aminta,” under the guise of “Timidia” mimics a quiet young thing, and once married to Morosus turns into a shrieking harridan! Strauss declared it the “best libretto for a comic opera since Figaro,” and it was the Austrian playwright Stefan Zweig who adopted the story from Ben Jonson’s comedy “Epicoene.” The circumstances leading up to the premiere on 24 June 1935, however, were not funny at all!

Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig

Zweig, who was Jewish, had finished the libretto in January 1933, the very month Hitler came to power. With works by Jews prohibited from German stages, the press began to attack Strauss on this issue. Strauss refused to withdraw the opera and set up the premiere for Dresden, resulting in an internal power struggle within the Nazi government. Since neither Goebbels nor Rosenberg would take the responsibility, the matter was referred to Hitler, who personally informed Strauss that the opera could proceed. An effort to keep Zweig’s name off the playbills for the premiere was overturned by Strauss, and Hitler decided to stay away from the successful premiere performance. A short time later, however, the Gestapo intercepted a letter from Strauss to Zweig urging him to collaborate on future operas and to publically air his critical views of the Nazi regime. Hitler was not amused and after three more performances, Die Schweigsame Frau was banned. Zweig had already left Germany—eventually committing suicide in Brazil in 1942—and Strauss was told to resign as president of the Reichsmusikkammer (State Music Bureau) on grounds of ill health. Given all these serious trials and tribulations, it is entirely consistent that Die schweigsame Frau contains some of Strauss’ lightest music for the stage!

Richard Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman), Act 1

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