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Performing Feminine Aging: The Marschallin’s Body in Der Rosenkavalier

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This paper applies theories from gerontology to analyze the music and text from Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Der Rosenkavalier (1911) in order to examine the Marschallin’s attitude towards her aging female body. After illustrating the signifiers that code the Marschallin’s body as feminine, this paper incorporates Chris Gilleard’s idea from gerontology, that embracing feminine sexuality prevents the desexualizing process of aging, to examine the Marschallin’s sexual escapism. Then, with the incorporation of biographical accounts discussing reflection on past experiences and Marja Saarenheimo’s gerontological theory that memories are embodied processes, the paper analyzes how aspects of nostalgia relate to the Marschallin’s process of remembering her younger body through musical and textual repetition. The paper concludes with a brief examination of the extra-musical connotations of the waltz and an investigation of the Marschallin and waltz tempi through the lens of gerontology, which revisits the topics of sexual escapism and nostalgia. At the end of the opera, this analysis of the Marschallin shows that she accepts her aging body and exerts control over her own life.


Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Der Rosenkavalier, gerontology, opera

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