Opera buffs gathered Saturday morning to learn about the women of Richard Strauss' operas in the serene setting of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College. Stratton Rawson, special projects producer for classical music radio station WNED, lectured his audience on how Strauss used lyrics and instrumentation to convey his characters' emotions.
Rawson sketched a brief history of Strauss's life, beginning with his childhood in Germany and his parents, Franz, a virtuoso horn player, and his mother, the daughter of a wealthy brewer. Rawson continued to explain how Strauss' mother was in and out of insane asylums for many years, which led the composer to be always aware of the line between sanity and insanity.
Strauss was very influenced, said Rawson, by the two main women in his life, his mother and Pauline de Ahna, a soprano under his direction at an opera house in Munich and later, after much prodding, his wife. Rawson informed the audience that de Ahna was like many women today: afraid she would lose her career to her family and yet worried that she would not be a good wife and mother due to her job.
Although Strauss' heroines always have been depicted as motivated by evil, Rawson contends that these characters do not know what drives them until they realize the power of love, usually at the climax of the opera. Before this realization, they, said Rawson, are only innocent and sheltered.
Strauss' wife, Pauline, can be seen in "Der Rosenkavalier" can be seen in character as the marshal's daughter, especially with the knowledge that Pauline was herself the daughter of a general.
"Intermezzo," too, was written by Strauss to show his audience the absolute domestic bliss of his household. According to Rawson, Pauline was often portrayed as diva-like and critical of Strauss, but at home the opposite was true; their household was a happy and traditional one.
"Intermezzo," however, was did not reach success due to because it was "much too serene," said Rawson, for the dynamic world of 1920s Germany.
Many operas in the late 19th century and early 20th century were written with characters searching for their senses of purpose. Rawson explained that Strauss' passion was always with love, and Strauss held the opinion that men could love as deeply and as spiritually as women were thought to at the time. Many other composers of the period involved finding meaning through God, while Strauss used a different approach.
"Strauss wanted to be a German mystic, but he didn't want anything about God in his mysticism. This created a problem for most Germans," said Rawson.
Strauss was quoted as saying, "I now comfort myself with the knowledge that I am on the road I want to take, fully conscious that there never has been an artist not considered crazy by thousands of his fellow men."
This he was reported to have said after the performance of his first tone poem "Don Juan," when the entire audience was on its feet - half cheering, half booing,