14 April 2014 at 4.26pm | Comment on this article
Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was an English playwright and poet.
Jonson's 1609 play Epicœne, or The Silent Woman is the basis for Richard Strauss’s comic opera Die schweigsame Frau, which had its premiere in Dresden in 1935. The opera was Strauss’s sole collaboration with the writer Stefan Zweig (currently experiencing a surge of interest thanks to his influence on Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel), who succeeded the late Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Sadly, being Jewish, Zweig fell foul of the Nazis and his and Strauss’s opera was banned after only four performances.
Like Jonson’s play, Die schweigsame Frau is a light and witty work, featuring Sir Morosus, who seeks a quiet life with a silent wife. He dismisses his chatty housekeeper and is presented with three potential brides. Little does he know that they are all members of his nephew’s wife’s opera troupe in disguise, recalling Strauss’s earlier opera Ariadne auf Naxos. The opera is hugely entertaining and, had it not disappeared from view, Die schweigsame Frau may well have become one of Strauss’s most popular works.
2014 sees the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth. The composer is celebrated at the ROH with stagings of Die Frau ohne Schatten (which ran until 2 April 2014) and Ariadne auf Naxos (25 June-13 July). Tickets for Ariadne auf Naxos are still available.